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Bigger Fines Likely for Health and Safety Failures

Friday, 2 January 2015

In the past year, there have been 133 fatal injuries at work and 70 members of public were injured in accidents associated with work. However, because there are not enough past cases, fines given out have been deemed unclear and too lenient, which has led to concerns that organisations and individuals are not taking their responsibilities to the public seriously enough.

As a result, the Sentencing Council is seeking to revamp the sentencing criteria for those found guilty of committing health and safety violations, corporate manslaughter or food safety and hygiene offences. The consultation on this matter started on 13 November 2014 and will remain open until 18 February 2015.

Why are larger fines being proposed?

One problem with safeguarding against health and safety violations or corporate manslaughter is that it is difficult to enforce this on all staff when their priority is to meet deadlines, complete sales or finish building works. As the fine for not complying could be deemed nominal, it does not have the desired deterrent effect meaning that organisations or individuals see the fines imposed for these breaches as merely one of many acceptable costs of doing business.

The proposals include taking the organisation’s size and resources into account when assessing the fines. These include having an upper limit for corporate manslaughter of £20m and up to £10m for fatal health and safety offences.

How would the size of the fines be assessed?

For organisations, the size of the firm would be separated into categories based on annual turnover: micro (less than £2m), small (£2m to £10m), medium (£10m to £50m), large (over £50m) and very large (where the turnover is much larger than £50m). These organisations would then have fines determined by their size and culpability.

For individuals, their culpability would be judged as low, negligent, reckless or even deliberate and then the fine would be a percentage their weekly income. This could range from 25% up to 700%. Individuals could also face custodial sentences if the offence is sufficiently serious.

Once the seriousness of the offending party’s conduct and their resources have been determined, mitigating and aggravating factors would be taken into account to make the potential fine a fairer reflection of the act committed.

Such factors include: previous convictions or offences committed, the level of cooperation with the investigation (or lack thereof in cases of evidence concealment), whether any steps were taken to avoid the accident or could have been taken, and whether they have a good or bad record for health and safety or food hygiene.

Finally, the organisation’s profit margin must be considered when deciding whether to reduce or increase the overall fine. If they have made large profits then the fine will be increased, but if they have not made substantial profits then it may be reduced slightly. The Sentencing Council would also give consideration as to whether the fine would put the offending organisation or individual out of business.

For specialist advice about health and safety compliance or for defence against civil claims associated with health and safety breaches contact Peter Gourri today by email or telephone 0207 611 4848.

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