Changes to the Sentencing Guidelines will increase health & safety fines

Criminal courts have the power of unlimited fines for health & safety offences but follow guidelines. Those guidelines are about to change. New guidelines from the Sentencing Council starting on 1st February 2016 will mean fines imposed for health & safety offences will rise.

The fines imposed will be based on a range of factors which include business turnover and the degree of harm. The guidelines intend for fines to be deliberately punitive and to remove any economic gain that may be derived from poor health and safety.

The Courts will have to determine the offence by category by looking at various factors. Then the turnover of the business is considered to determine a starting point for the appropriate level of fine.

The next stage involves considering of whether the fine suggested by the previous steps is “proportionate to the means of the offender”. The court might take into account things like the profitability of the business before tax, directors’ / owners’ remuneration and the assets of the business to do this.

The fourth step considers of any other factors that may warrant an adjustment of the proposed fine.

The court should adjust the fine in light of any aggravating and mitigating factors, which are likely to relate to the wider circumstances of the offence and also include factors relating to the offender. Examples of aggravating factors include cost cutting at the expense of safety and a poor health and safety record. Mitigating factors could include no of previous convictions and having effective health and safety procedures in place.

Conviction rates for individuals who turn a blind eye to unsafe practice or sacrifice health & safety for profit are also set to rise. Unless the risk of harm is very low, courts will be directed that all cases of a deliberate breach of health & safety requirements should result in a prison sentence of up to 2 years, for the most serious offences.

So businesses must ask themselves if their management of health & safety is appropriately managed for their size and type of business.

Unsure? Then give us a call at HASCAT Safety