Last week we gave you some top tips to keep businesses clean in the light of the governance failures at UK Anti-Doping . Continuing our governance theme, the new Sentencing Guidelines mean failures in this area just got a whole lot more costly. These guidelines apply to all health and safety offences and all food safety offences. Anyone involved in ensuring compliance with laws relating to health and safety or food safety needs to be aware of the changes.
Why is it important?
There are many reasons (other than financial!) why health and safety and food safety are important, including the impact on the workforce, insurance, brand and reputation, future orders and position in the market place, to name but a few. However over the years, the extent of the financial penalty imposed by the Court has been something of a lottery – but one with increasing stakes as the judiciary and various public organisations have expressed disquiet over the level of fines imposed, particularly for serious health and safety breaches.
Enter the new Sentencing Guidelines
Sentencing Guidelines have changed the ballpark in particular for businesses with a turnover of more than £10m. In simple terms the new Guidelines introduce a tariff system based on turnover, culpability and the degree of risk of harm (as opposed to actual harm).
The assessment of culpability and risk is crucial in determining the level of fine. To illustrate the point, for a business with a turnover between £10m and £50m which is found guilty of a health and safety offence where the Judge considers there is medium culpability (so, systems were in place, but they were insufficient to guard against the risk, which created a high likelihood of death or serious injury occurring), this would result in a fine of between £300,000 and £1.3m. Take the same scenario and apply it to a business with a turnover of more than £50m and that range increases to between £800,000 and £3.25m. Aggravating and mitigating factors are then taken into account by the Judge to determine the eventual fine.
These sorts of numbers are a world apart from the level of fines previously imposed and should sound warning bells for all businesses. The best advice to avoid this ‘brave new world’ of sentencing has to be ‘do not neglect safety’. However, if you find yourself on the wrong side of the tracks, getting the right advice from day one of an incident in order to protect your interests and remove or reduce the potential financial impact is imperative.