On February 1, 2016, new sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences are set to revolutionise punishment for health and safety offences.
The new guidelines will apply to all health and safety cases sentenced after February 1, 2016, regardless of when the offence was committed. In future, fines for the largest organisations in the sector following a fatality could cost tens of millions of pounds.
The guidelines set out the methodology that magistrates and judges will have to adopt when sentencing, which cover:
- The harm the offence caused – potential harm as well as actual harm – with multiple deaths being considered the most serious.
- The culpability of the offender – whether the act or omission was an oversight or a deliberate decision taken to save money.
- The size of the offender, measured by reference to financial turnover.
In the future, courts will be instructed to ensure that fines are sufficiently substantial to have real economic impact on the defendant. This is intended to remind shareholders and managers of the need to provide a safe working environment.
The guidelines will also apply to individuals prosecuted for health and safety offences, with the consequence requiring very little fault on the part of an individual to result in a custodial sentence, which are currently rare.
Julia Evans, chief executive, BSRIA, said: “The UK has one of the best safety records globally. The unintended potential consequence of these guidelines could be that global organisations that suffer significant fines will decide that future global investment will be directed outside the UK where the sentencing regime is far less rigorous.
“However, all workers are entitled to a safe place of work. But a balance must be struck: to ensure that the punishment following a conviction is both just and proportionate having regard to all of the circumstances.”