Tuesday 3rd November saw the release of new guidelines from the Sentencing Council covering penalties for Health & Safety offences in the UK.
Billed as “The most dramatic change ..since 1974” the new guidelines mark a robust stance towards Health & Safety violations
The sentencing guidelines have been designed to provide a structured approach to sentencing and to shift the focus from accidents themselves to risky situations which may result in future accidents.
These principles have fundamentally shifted how organisations and staff approach Health & Safety and opened employers up to greater sanctions if they have identified a risk and do not rectify it.
In a recent article Health & Safety legal expert Dr Simon Joyston-Bechal identified 4 key points arising from the guidelines:
- It’s easy to fall into the ‘very high’ culpability category
The new guidelines require the allocation of a culpability factor which can range from ‘very high’ to ‘low. To fall into the ‘Very High’ category employers are required to commit what is termed a ‘deliberate breach. The concern is that once an employer realises there is a safety issue, and does not rectify it, they have committed a deliberate breach and so fall into the ‘Very High’ category.
- Sentencing has shifted from outcome based to risk based
Whilst Health & Safety legislation has revolved around risk, in practice enforcement has focused more on outcome. The Sentencing Council has now shifted this balance to ensure that punishment is based more on the risk as opposed to the outcome. As such a high risk of death could lead to an almost identical sentence to an actual fatality.
- Likelihood of harm is now designated as high, medium or low
Courts will now look to quantify the likelihood of harm on a scale of high, medium & low, however the concern is that these categories could prove highly subjective and lead to varying sentences.
- Large fines are in store for companies with a turnover of more than £50m
Very large companies could be fined in excess of £100m for the most serious breaches. This is reinforced by the Court of Appeal’s recent judgement against Thames Water.
- A lower threshold for imprisonment
Using the pre-established culpability factor and harm categories courts can hand down custodial sentences starting with a year in prison.
Read the full article from Dr Joyston-Bechal here
Lone Working Safety Systems such as Lookout Call help mitigate the risk to employers and demonstrate a robust Health & Safety policy & Duty of Care towards employees.