New health and safety sentencing guidelines start to bite

New sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences came into force in February this year, and businesses need to be aware of the potential financial and reputational ramifications.

Under the new guidelines, fines will be calculated in a staged process which factors in the level of harm involved, culpability and the turnover of the organisation.

Turnover will be the starting point for the level of fine. For the most serious offences, fines of up to £10 million are envisaged for large organisations (those with a turnover greater than £50 million).

For medium sized organisations (those with a turnover between £10 million and £50 million) the fine could reach £4 million, and up to £1.6 million for small organisations (which have a turnover between £2 million and £10 million.)

Micro-businesses (a turnover of less than £2 million) can expect a fine of up to £450,000.

For corporate manslaughter, the penalty for a large organisation may be as much as £20 million.

The courts will adjust the level of fine after taking into consideration any aggravating factors, such as relevant past convictions, cost cutting at the expense of safety, and a poor health and safety record. Mitigating factors, such as co-operation with the investigation, self-reporting and acceptance of responsibility, will also be taken into account.

A recent prosecution demonstrates the impact of these new guidelines.  A DIY wholesaler was fined £2.2 million following the death of an agency worker who fell from an unguarded platform. The judge calculated the fine on the basis that the company’s culpability was high; the offence resulted in a fatality (harm category 1); and the company was a large organisation with a turnover of £100 million.

The judge also took account of the fact that this was the company’s first offence and that the breach had been on-going for several years.

We are now in an era where sentencing in health and safety offences is designed to have a real economic impact on organisations that break the law. Higher fines will also carry significant commercial and reputational consequences. Cutting back on health and safety management may be seen as a false economy in these circumstances.

For more information on this issue, speak to one of our team on 01772 736522 or email