New health and safety sentencing guidelines published today look set to dramatically increase fines for non-compliance
Published on 3rd Nov 2015
New guidelines have been published today which will be used by Courts faced with the challenge of fining companies and individuals for breaches of health and safety law as well as certain food safety and hygiene offences. The guidelines will come into force on 1 February 2016 for any defendant sentenced on or after that date. Very similar to those put in place in 2014 for environmental offences, these guidelines provide judges a step by step approach to use when approaching punishment, critically also looking at a company’s turnover when reaching a range of appropriate fines based on culpability and harm factors.
Fines in the health and safety arena have been creeping up over the last 5 years or so but, to date, the guidance for courts on how to approach fines has been very limited. The only guideline in place currently deals with fatality offences and recommends a starting point for fines under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 of £100,000 and £500,000 for Corporate Manslaughter offences. However, judicial comment in appeal cases has indicated a change in attitude as to how offences are punished, particularly where large companies are involved.
In September 2015, a fine of £1.2m against Hugo Boss was one of the largest of its type following the fatality of a child visiting its Bicester Village store who was crushed by a falling 18 stone mirror. This comes not long after the judicial commentary in the R v Thames Water Utilities  EWCA Crim 960 case which endorsed a large fine in the first appeal since the environmental guideline had been in place and indicated that fines ‘in excess of £100 million’ could be seen in the worst cases.
With this complete change in the sentencing landscape for health and safety and food cases, we consider that seven figure fines will become the norm for large companies and recommend that businesses re-evaluate how they assess risks in this arena and examine systems and processes to consider if they remain fit for purpose in the future to ensure legislative compliance.
For more detail about how the guidelines will work and the factors which will be taken into account when defendants are sentenced see here.