Changes to sentencing guidelines

Changes to sentencing guidelines

Changes to sentencing guidelines came into force on the February 1st 2016, and provides courts with guidance for all health and safety offences.

The changes to sentencing guidelines have been introduced to give courts comprehensive guidance for all health and safety offences in any case sentenced in England and Wales.

The Sentencing Council has laid out a framework which the courts must adhere to during the consideration on the appropriate financial penalty.

These include:

  • The seriousness of the offence by determining the risk of harm and culpability of the offender

  • Financial information based on a company’s turnover

  • Any aggravating or mitigating factors such as impact on employees

    The framework consists of five categories based on company’s turnovers including micro, small, medium, large and very large from all industries.

    The figures range from a turnover of no more than £2 million for micro businesses to £50 million and over for very large companies.

    You can view the framework for the guideline penalties here.

    Large companies will generally fall within a wide range of fines from £6,000 to £3 million, with starting points for each of the categories ranging from £10,000 to £1.2 million depending on the degree of culpability and harm. 

    There are four categories of culpability:

    • Very high - deliberate breach of or deliberate disregard for the law.

    • High - falling far short of the appropriate standard, for example failing to put industry standards in place or failing to make changes following an incident. Serious and/or systemic failure within the organisation to address risks to health and safety.

    • Medium - falling short of the appropriate standard in a manner that falls between high and low categories such as putting systems in place that were not sufficiently adhered to or implemented.

    • Low - falling not far short of the appropriate standard, for example significant efforts were made to address the risk but were inadequate on this occasion - there was no warnings or circumstances indicating a risk to health and safety. Failings were minor and occurred as an isolated incident.  

    Within the context of the sentencing guidelines, harm is the “seriousness of harm risked”. It will be the risk of the identified injury (e.g. risk of death) that will be considered.

    There are three levels of harm:

    • Level A - death or physical or mental impairment resulting in lifelong dependency on third party care for basic needs. Significantly reduced life expectancy.

    • Level B - physical or mental impairment (not amounting to level A) which has a substantial and long-term effect on the sufferer’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities or on their ability to return to work. A progressive, permanent or irreversible condition.

    • Level C - all other cases not falling within Level A or B.

    The Guideline also requires the courts to decide on the likelihood of that harm arising in order to arrive at a final harm category. This, in conjunction with the corporate offender’s turnover, will provide the financial starting point for sentencing purposes. 

    The courts will however consider the company’s health and safety history prior to the case; mitigating features that could reduce fines include a good health and safety record.

    If you require any advice or assistance on how to avoid workplace situations which could lead to a prosecution, please get in touch with us.