Health & Safety Sentencing

Today marks the second anniversary of the introduction of new sentencing guidelines for health and safety and other offences in the UK.

It is two years since the implementation of the UK Sentencing Council’s Definitive Guideline for the Sentencing of Health and Safety Offences, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety and Hygiene Offences.

In 2017 we saw, as predicted, that the courts weren’t shy about imposing high fines for organisations and custodial sentences for individuals for breaching health and safety legislation.

The principal focus of the Guideline is to ensure fines are ‘sufficiently substantial to have a real economic impact which will bring home to both management and shareholders the need to comply with health and safety legislation’.

A significant number of cases have attracted fines in excess of £1m, many in non-fatal cases, and this is a trend that is likely to continue.
The 2016/17 data on prosecutions released by the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) shows a large annual increase in fines. In 2015/16, the total fines for health and safety offences was £38.8 million. This rose to £69.9 million in 2016/17. The average fine per case in 2016/17 was approximately £126,000, which is more than double the average fine in 2015/16. Notably, the ten highest fines in 2017 ranged between £1.35m and £3m.

There is no doubt that the sharp increase in fines over the past two years is the subject of regular discussion in boardrooms up and down the country.