New guidelines could create fines of up to £20 million

by Dann Albright on December 2, 2014

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The Sentencing Council recently proposed new guidelines for the levying of fines in British courts, and the guidelines include significantly stiffer penalties for health and safety violations.

In a departure from how fine amounts were previously determined, the new guidelines recommend that the size of the fine should be proportional to the size of the company being punished.

More specific sentencing guidelines

In the past, health and safety offences haven’t been included in the sentencing guidelines, and other guidelines focused on penalties for corporations, leaving the sentencing of individuals up to the courts.

However, the new guidelines include more specific guidance on the penalties recommended for both individuals and corporations, and in a wider range of situations.

In a press release regarding the proposed guidelines, the Sentencing Council stated,

Offenders that are organisations in these cases may range from a small family business to a multinational company, from statutory bodies to charities. An individual may commit a health and safety or food offence in their capacity as a Director of a company or an employee; or they may be an individual putting others at risk.

They also stated that because there can be a wide range of consequences for these sorts of transgressions, from very minor to very serious, more guidance was called for.

Said Michael Caplan QC, member of the Sentencing Council, “We want to ensure that these crimes don’t pay. They can have extremely serious consequences and businesses that put people at risk by flouting their responsibilities are undercutting those that maintain proper standards and do their best to keep people safe.”

Stiffer fines for offences

Under the new guidelines, a mid-sized company that has an annual turnover of between £10 and £50 million convicted of corporate manslaughter would face fines that start at £3 million for a major offence, and at £2 million for a less serious one. Those fines could be as high as £7.5 and £5 million, respectively. For very large companies, the fines could be as high as £20 million for a major corporate manslaughter offence.

In comparison, a company was fined £480,000 in 2012 for corporate manslaughter after a worker fell to his death through a fibreglass roof light. Other fines for this type of offence have included ones for £385,000, £191,000, and £8,000.

The new guidance, in addition to corporate manslaughter, provides benchmarks for health and safety offences. These transgressions can now be punished with fines up to £10 million for large corporations. Of course, not all of the fines proposed in the guidelines are this serious—a medium-sized company with “medium culpability” would face fines of £300,000 to £1.3 million.

A number of factors are to be taken into account when determining the severity of the fine, including whether or not the corporation has previous convictions, breached court orders, co-operated with the investigation, committed the offence for financial gain, or has self-reported and accepted responsibility.

The overall financial state of the company will also be taken into account, as will its status as public or private: public companies and charities may have their fines reduced if the fines would impair the company’s ability to provide services.

Compliance is more important than ever

With an increased emphasis on punishing companies for cutting corners when it comes to health and safety, it’s more important than ever to stay compliant with regulations.

First and foremost, it’s crucial to take care of your employees, whether you’re a managing director, a site supervisor, or a contractor on the ground. Taking the proper safety precautions is paramount.

And, of course, make sure that your documentation is in order. With the recent inclusion of the events and entertainment industries in the CDM regulations, even more companies are now under the purview of the HSE, and will face inspections of work sites and documentation.

Risk assessments, methods statements, and COSHH documentation are all necessary for construction projects, and the copy-and-paste method that so many companies are now using just won’t cut it when it comes time for inspections and assessments (this is where we can help).

Don’t be on the wrong side of one of these fines! Make sure that you’re providing for your employees’ safety and following proper documentation procedure.

Image credit: Tori Rector via flickr.

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