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Major Changes to Health & Safety Sentencing Comes into Force

In November last year the Sentencing Council announced that new guidelines relating to the way punishments are given for health and safety offences would come into force this month (February 2016).

The aim of the new guidelines is to ensure consistency across sentencing and that fines are ‘fair and proportionate to the means of the offenders.’

Health and safety offences are concerned with failures to manage risks and do not require proof that the offence caused actual harm. The offence is in creating a risk of harm.

When sentencing consideration must be given to both ‘the seriousness of the harm risked by the offender’s breach, and the likelihood of that harm arising (high, medium, low).’

The Sentencing Council have set out a list of examples as guidance as follows:

Issue 1

  • We asked: If you agreed with the way harm was assessed in the health and safety guideline.
  • You said: It was unfair for employers to be liable for injury caused by an individuals own unforeseeable actions.
  • We did: Qualified that liability for actual harm caused as a result of an offence is limited to harm which was reasonably foreseeable.

Issue 2

  • We asked: If the culpability categories for individuals and organisations in the guidelines were appropriate.
  • You said: Individual culpability categories of reckless and negligent could be inconsistently interpreted and were not as clear as categories for organisations.
  • We did: Aligned the individual culpability categories with organisations culpability categories to provide for consistent culpability assessments.

Issue 3

  • We asked: If the harm categories for food safety and hygiene offences were appropriate.
  • You said: There should be a greater focus on risk of harm as it is often difficult to identify a victim in these offences and is therefore difficult to prove actual harm.
  • We did: Risk of harm included within every category of harm in definitive guideline.

It should be noted that these new guidelines also include Corporate Manslaughter (Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007), are based on turnover as opposed to profit, and apply to ‘all organisations and offenders aged 18 and older, who are sentenced on or after 1 February 2016, regardless of the date of the offence.’

These new guidelines certainly emphasise the importance of ensuring you and your business are health and safety compliant, and aware of any potential risks.

If you would training to help you identify and manage health and safety risks see details of our next course here.