It is over three years (1 February 2016) since the definitive guideline for sentencing health and safety offences came into force. It was apparent that the change in the sentencing regime was going to increase sentences for businesses, and make the imposition of custodial sentences for individuals more likely.
A recent impact assessment published by the Sentencing Council has shown how extreme the rises have been.
Fines should be proportionate to the means of the offender and reflect the seriousness of the offending; historically fines for organisations with a large turnover were disproportionately low and did not encourage regulatory compliance nor reflect the aims of sentencing more generally.
The impact report shows a stark comparison pre and post guideline. For large/very large organisation (turnover in excess of £50m or equivalent) in the 16 months before February 2016 the median fine was £25,000; in the same period after the guideline came into force the median shot up to £370,800.
All other categories of organisations by turnover showed increases, albeit not so dramatic. However in relation to micro organisations (less than £2m turnover or equivalent) the increase of more than 50% was something that that those who drafted the guideline had not anticipated, although it was obvious to many. Consequently there is potential for a future revision of the guideline in order to lower fines for these very small organisations.
As to individuals, fines are still the most frequent sentence, however the imposition of suspended sentences of imprisonment has risen from 3% to over 20% and in 2017 5% of individuals were sentence to a term of immediate custody.
This analysis underlines that businesses, particularly large ones, have to realise that failures to ensure health and safety, which result in successful prosecution, will lead to condign sentences.
The content of this article is for general information only. If you would like to discuss the health and safety fines post guideline further please contact Matthew Gowen or another member of Birketts' Health and Safety Team.