Tough New Penalties for Companies Flouting Health and Safety Laws

Businesses which breach health and safety protocol will face tougher penalties thanks to new sentencing laws published by the Sentencing Council this week. Those incriminated in the most serious forms of corporate manslaughter, health and safety, and associated hygiene offences will be subject to tough new sentencing measures — which are intended to reduce the number of cases in the long-term.

Surprisingly, the Sentencing Council’s new guidelines for penalising organisations that have caused death, injury or illness are the first measures of their kind to be incorporated by magistrates and judges in the UK. Corporate offences which fall within the new framework include restaurants which have instigated an E.coli outbreak through unsafe food preparation, building firms which have caused the death of an employee by failing to provide ample safety equipment, and manufacturers who provide insufficient training provision, resulting in a workplace death or injury.

In most cases, the new sentencing measures will mean heftier fines for organisations guilty of serious health and safety offences. Prison sentences may also be levelled against individuals who are personally responsible for any acts of serious corporate misconduct. The Sentencing Council is not anticipating a larger number of penalties arising as a result of the new sentencing laws, but there may certainly be higher fines for organisations that have committed the most serious offences.

A spokesman for The Sentencing Council said: “The increase in penalties for serious offending has been introduced because in the past, some offenders did not receive fines that properly reflected the crimes they committed. The Council wants fines for these offences to be fair and proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and the means of offenders.”

Under previous measures, individual health and safety offences were not arbitrated on the severity of the incident, meaning some organisations escaped heavy penalisation. Now, with the new regime in place, magistrates will be better placed to bring serious offenders to justice, and offer greater leniency towards those who have committed only minor offences.

When assessing the appropriate fine to level at offending businesses, a firm’s annual turnover will be used as a basic starting point for discerning a suitable figure. Naturally, this will also be measured by the severity of the offence, with some of the more serious acts of corporate misconduct attracting unlimited fines of £50 to £100 million.

Michael Caplan QC, honourable member of the Sentencing Council, said: “These guidelines will introduce a consistent approach to sentencing, ensuring fair and proportionate sentences for those who cause death or injury to their employees and the public or put them at risk.

“Some offences can have very serious consequences, and it is important that sentences reflect these.”

Also commenting on the issue; Rod Ainsworth, director of regulatory and legal strategy at the Food Standards Agency, welcomed the guidelines, saying: “They [the new sentencing measures] will ensure that there is consistency in sentencing for food safety and food hygiene offences across the country. They will also ensure that offenders are sentenced fairly and proportionately in the interests of consumers.”

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