It has been over three years since the Health and Safety Offences, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety and Hygiene Offences Definitive Guidelines were introduced.
To consider the extent to which the Guidelines have met their stated aims the Sentencing Council has recently undertaken an Impact Assessment, which has made the following key findings:
- The fines imposed on all organisations have increased following the introduction of the Guidelines.
- There has been an unanticipated increase in the fines imposed on ‘smaller’ organisations.
- An increasing number of individuals are being prosecuted for health and safety offences, and the fines imposed have increased.
- An unanticipated increase in the level of fines imposed on organisations and individuals convicted of food safety and hygiene offences.
- Fines following conviction for corporate manslaughter have increased.
- Fewer appeals against sentence have been successful.
During consultation it was anticipated that the net effect of the new Guidelines would be to increase the levels of fines imposed, given that fines against organisations were to be primarily based on turnover and not (in contrast to the previous guidelines) universal starting points irrespective of an organisation’s size.
Whilst this anticipation can be seen to have become a reality, the Impact Assessment reveals unexpected increases in the fines handed down against both smaller organisations and those individuals convicted of health and safety and food safety and hygiene offences.
Having considered the findings of the Impact Assessment, the Sentencing Council intends to investigate further the operation of the Guidelines, especially its application to smaller organisations and individuals and will consider in due course whether any revisions are necessary.
The fact that fines are on the increase, across the full range of offences caught by the Sentencing Guidelines, perhaps offers little comfort to dutyholders. However, rather than taking the increase as a negative, organisations and individuals should rather treat these figures as an incentive to ensure that health and safety remains a top priority and to motivate them to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that they do not form part of the figures for the next Impact Assessment.