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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Alert24 - Safeguard Update

UK: impact of sentencing guidelines

UK: impact of sentencing guidelines
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The spectacular impact of formal sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences in England and Wales is apparent in an analysis published by IOSH, which shows the value of the 20 highest fines issued in 2016 exceeded the value of all fines levied under the 660 prosecutions successfully concluded in 2015.

The report, Health and safety sentencing guidelines one year on, notes the highest fine imposed in 2016 – £5m – was two and a half times the highest fine in 2015, and almost ten times the highest fine in 2014.

Similarly, 19 companies were fined £1m or more in 2016, compared to three in 2015 and none in 2014. The 20th largest fine in 2016 was £900,000, some £300,000 more than the highest fine in 2014.

The report says that until the new guidelines emerged the only previous sentencing guide was one published in 2010 for cases involving a fatality – and which specifically prevented the courts from considering a company’s turnover when setting a fine.

The Sentencing Council’s new guidelines take three factors into account:

  • culpability (four levels – very high, high, medium, low);
  • likelihood of harm and potential for injury (including number of people put at risk);
  • annual turnover.

There is a separate set of guidelines for corporate manslaughter offences, which sets fine ranges from £180,000 to £20m.

The report says the guidelines, the fines, and comments from the Court of Appeal in one particular case, “appear finally to recognise through the UK courts that health and safety breaches should be treated as seriously as data breaches or financial irregularity issues.”

Other trends identified include large fines imposed for exposure to risk, even when no harm occurred; and that individuals, particularly company directors, are coming under greater court scrutiny.

Individual defendants of a health and safety breach can be alleged to have been “highly culpable”, and those facing such allegations “will almost certainly face custodial sentences, with a range from 26 weeks to two years.”



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