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Web alert: new sentencing guidelines to be introduced in the UK for Health and Safety offences

16 February 2015

The Sentencing Council (for England and Wales) has produced draft guidelines for health and safety offences following a review of sentences passed by the courts in recent years, with the aim of ensuring a more consistent approach. Fines imposed on companies in the past for health and safety offences have been criticised as being too low.  The guidelines will apply to offences under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA) and subordinate regulations, which involve accidents in the workplace that result in death and serious injury as well as near misses where there was a culpable risk of injury but no injury occurred.  The HSWA applies to offshore installations in the oil/gas and the renewable energy industries which operate in the UK’s territorial sea and Continental Shelf. 

The Sentencing Council considers that fines imposed for health and safety offences should reflect the seriousness of the offence and should meet, in a fair and proportionate way, the aims of punishment and deterrence. The draft guidelines use a matrix system which categorises offences and provides a starting point and potential range of fines, depending on the serious risk of harm caused, level of culpability and financial means of the offender.  Companies are categorised as micro (a turnover of less than £2m), small (a turnover of between £2m and £10m), medium (a turnover of between £10m and £50m) and large (a turnover of above £50m). 

The guidelines will result in a higher level of fines being imposed for offences committed by larger companies as the Sentencing Council want to ‘bring home to both management and shareholders the need to comply with legislation and achieve a safe environment for workers’. Courts will have to follow the guidelines when passing sentence for offences under the HSWA (unless it is contrary to the interests of justice). As members will be aware, fines imposed under the HSWA are treated as discretionary claims under the club’s rules (rule 3.16.4) and members’ individual terms of entry.

The consultation will close on 18 February 2015 following which final guidelines will be issued.  A copy of the draft guidelines can be found at www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk/