Regulatory Timeline | Health & Safety – April 2016

Written on 14 Apr 2016

“The implementation of the new sentencing guidelines for criminal courts dealing with health and safety offences is expected to result in tougher sentences, particularly for those businesses with turnover in excess of £50 million.

The Health and Safety Executive’s “Helping Great Britain Work Well” campaign highlights the HSE’s increased focus on addressing ill health in the workplace, and the role of – and cost to – employers in managing employee ill health.”

Mary Lawrence, Associate Director, Osborne Clarke

January 2016 – HSE Helping Great Britain Work Well campaign 

The HSE has launched its “Helping Great Britain Work Well” campaign, which is set to be a five year campaign. There is a continued focus on tackling ill health within the workplace. 

The six key themes of the campaign are: 

  1. acting together: promoting broader ownership of health and safety in Great Britain;
  2. tackling ill health: highlighting and tackling the costs of work-related ill health;
  3. managing risk well: simplifying risk management and helping businesses to grow;
  4. supporting small employers: giving SMEs simple advice so they know what they have to do;
  5. keeping pace with change: anticipating and tackling new health and safety challenges; and
  6. sharing our success: promoting the benefits of Great Britain’s world-class health and safety system.

Q2 2016 – Review of the coroner reforms

We are awaiting the result of the government’s consultation on certain reforms introduced by the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. The purpose of  the consultation is to find out whether the reforms are operating as planned and whether there have been any unintended consequences. 

Key areas being considered, include:

  • the publication of statutory guidance for bereaved people; 
  • the requirement to record inquests;
  • the requirement that coroners are available at all times to address matters which must be dealt with immediately; and 
  • flexibility of the location for inquests and post-mortem examinations.

The consultation closed on 31 December 2015 and we are expecting the government’s response during Q2 2016.

Q2 2016 – New sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences, corporate manslaughter and food safety and hygiene offences

On 1 February 2016, the much-talked about new sentencing guidelines came into force for all health and safety offences, as well as corporate manslaughter and certain food safety and hygiene offences. The new guidelines apply to all organisations and individuals sentenced on or after that date. 

Described as the most dramatic change since the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, the guidelines actively encourage courts to link the level of fine directly to an organisation’s turnover, whilst also considering the culpability and harm factors to reach the recommended starting point of fines. There is little doubt that for larger organisations this is set to increase the level of potential fines significantly, from hundreds of thousands of pounds to millions of pounds. 

In the final weeks before the introduction of the new sentencing guidelines, courts had already started to take a tougher stance on sentencing, with a number of larger organisations being handed fines in the millions of pounds for health and safety offences. Practitioners will be keeping a particularly close eye in the coming months on the levels of fines imposed by the courts, to see how the guidelines are being implemented in practice.

The guidelines for health and safety can be found here.

Q2 2016 – Consultation on the reduction in sentences for a guilty plea

The Sentencing Council is currently consulting on a proposal to change the guidelines for reducing sentences following guilty pleas.

Currently, full credit (a reduction of one third of any fine) is generally given for a plea “at the earliest opportunity”. It is often accepted that this will be later than the first court hearing, as the complexity of health and safety and corporate manslaughter cases is such that the defendant may not be in a position to confirm a plea by that stage. The consultation suggests that unless a guilty plea is entered at the first court hearing, the discount a defendant is entitled to will reduce to 25% and then to 20%. 

In health and safety cases, where fines for large organisations under the new sentencing guidelines are likely to be in the millions of pounds, this could have a very significant financial impact, forcing defendants to consider how best to protect their position at the earliest possible stage.