On 1st February 2016, health and safety legislative guidelines underwent one of the biggest updates since the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act back in 1974. In what has been described as “the most dramatic change seen to health and safety legislation in more than forty years”, the Sentencing Council has published definitive guidance for health and safety offences.
This means, that for the first time, courts will have comprehensive sentencing guidelines covering common regulatory offences and continues the trend of significant increases in the level of punishment for health and safety offences. The guidelines are intended to ensure a consistent approach to sentencing and will apply to organisations and individuals on all health and safety, corporate manslaughter and food and safety hygiene cases.
And when I say significant increases, I mean significant increases. These are fines that will have a genuine and substantive impact on those organisations that fall foul of the law. We’ve already seen a trend towards higher fines for health and safety offences – fines of £1m and £2m have become increasingly common. The new guidelines will take this to a different level. Large organisations could face fines as high as £20 million and SMEs may well fare worse than larger companies, in relative terms.
The idea behind the guidelines is that the fines should be sufficiently substantial to have a real economic impact so that both management and shareholders realise they need to operate within the law.
Interestingly, the courts will be required to assess whether the overall seriousness of the offence based on the offender’s culpability and the risk of serious harm, regardless of whether any harm was actually caused. The offence lies in creating the risk of harm. The fine levels are based on a company’s turnover, not profit. And for individuals, the prospect of a custodial sentence not just for the most serious type of offence is a real possibility, as are significant increases in fines.
These are hugely significant and far-reaching changes with huge implications for companies and individuals alike. So what can you do to ensure you are compliant?
The best course of action is, of course, to ensure you have taken proper health and safety advice and have thoroughly implemented all the plans, policies and procedures that you need to. Investing in the right advice, right now, will represent a drop in the ocean in terms of cost when compared to the huge potential fines companies may face under the new guidelines. If you’re in any doubt whatsoever then call our health and safety team on 0844 892 2785 for help and advice.