Revised guidelines have now come into force to ensure health and safety breaches are fairly and proportionately punished.

The changes are likely to result in harsher punishments in criminal health and safety and corporate manslaughter cases with the aim of deterring potential future offences.

The new rules took effect for all cases sentenced from Monday 1 February (regardless of whether the transgressions took place before that date) and may see punishments of up to £20 million handed down.

Under previous rules fines for health and safety offences not resulting in death were set at a minimum of £100,000 and, for corporate manslaughter, not less than £500,000.

The new guidelines, published by the Sentencing Council externallinkback in November, take a number of factors into account when determining the level of fines including an organisation’s turnover:

Size of company Level of fine for the most serious health and safety offences
Large organisation
£50m+ turnover
Up to £10m
Medium-sized organisation
£10m to £50m turnover
Up to £4m
Small organisation
£2m to £10m turnover
Up to £1.6m
Micro-businesses Up to £450,000

Fines for corporate manslaughter will range from £80,000 to £20 million.

The offender is expected to provide three years’ worth of comprehensive accounts and, if these are not provided, the court is entitled to draw reasonable inferences including an inference that offender can pay any amount of fine.

The guidelines require the court to review and adjust the fine if necessary, taking into account factors such as profit margin, impact on employees, or the impact on the organisation’s ability to improve conditions. This means sentences will always be tailored to the offender’s specific circumstances.

Where an organisation’s turnover greatly exceeds £50 million, the guidelines provide that the court may impose fines above the suggested maximum levels.

The Sentencing Council says that increased penalties for serious offending have been introduced because, in the past, some offenders did not receive fines that properly reflected the crimes committed.

Now, as well as the severity of the offence, the culpability and means of the employer will also be assessed before fines are handed down.

The guidelines also include a range of mitigating factors which allow for voluntary, positive action to remedy a failure on the part of offenders to be reflected in sentences.

The tough new sanctions serve as a timely reminder of the importance of setting and enforcing standards in health and safety management.