The Sentencing Guidelines 2016 for Health and safety, corporate manslaughter and food safety and hygiene offences came into force on the 1st February 2016 and apply to any case heard since 1st February 2016, irrespective of when the offence was actually committed.

These are important changes and are expected to have a dramatic impact on companies within the UK.The key aspects to be aware of are:

  • Levels of sentencing for all relevant offences are likely to increase significantly
  • There is an increasing possibility for individuals (management or not) being imprisoned for offences that would not previously have been regarded as sufficiently serious to merit a custodial sentence
  • Fines are unlimited and will be proportionate to the size of the company.

To give you some background the new Guideline is based on the concept that ‘culpability’ and ‘harm’ are used to determine the level of fine and this is cross-referenced against the size of the organisation.

The measure of ‘culpability’ goes from ‘low’, where failings are minor and not systemic, to ‘very high’, where there has been a deliberate breach or flagrant disregard for the law.

The level of ‘harm’ is based upon the risk of harm created by the offence, which is then exacerbated if actual harm has occurred.

Once the ‘culpability’ and ‘harm’ categories are established, the turnover of the organisation is brought into the equation to allocate a particular sentencing matrix. There are different matrices depending on the size of the organisation:

  • Micro – Turnover not more than £2 million
  • Small – Turnover between £2 and £10 million
  • Medium – Turnover between £10 and £50 million
  • Large – Turnover over £50 million

Having taken all of the above into account the judge will then deliver their final sentence.

Creating an even playing field the end result is that no matter what the size of your company, any sentence given will be as impactful in real terms to a small company as it is to a large one.

As yet we are still in the early days of change and it remains to be seen how judges will apply the new guidelines. But whatever the outcome it is clear the intention is to improve health and safety practice across the board.

For a copy of the Definitive Guideline, please click here.