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Retailers beware: increased penalties for health and safety breaches

Hugo Boss has received a hefty fine of £1.2 million for health and safety offences arising at one of their stores in Bicester. The level of the fine is an indication of what retailers should expect when the new Sentencing Guidelines for health and safety offences are adopted later this year.

The facts

A prosecution was brought by the Health and Safety Executive following the death of a 4 year old boy at Hugo Boss's Bicester outlet store in June 2013. The child suffered fatal-head injuries when a large free-standing mirror fell onto him and he sadly died 4 days later in hospital. 

The company pleaded guilty to health and safety breaches under Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and Regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
The company was subsequently sentenced at Oxford Crown Court to a fine of £1.2 million on 4 September 2015.

Analysis of the sentence imposed

Following a consultation that ran from November 2014 to February 2015, the Sentencing Council are due to release revised guidelines for sentencing health and safety, corporate manslaughter and food safety offences later this year.

When the proposed guidelines are adopted they will not change the law, just the way companies are sentenced by the courts. The guidelines will seek to ensure that any fine imposed has a real economic impact on the offender as well as reflecting the seriousness of the offence committed. The new guidelines suggest a 'tariff-based' approach, which links the level of fine to the turnover of the offending organisation.

The current Sentencing Guidelines that apply to any health and safety offences causing death provide that the appropriate fine will seldom be less than £100,000. But it may be measured in hundreds of thousands of pounds or more. 

Under the new draft Sentencing Guidelines for a medium sized organisation which has a turnover or equivalent between £10 million and £50 million, the suggested level of fine ranges up to £4 million for the most serious cases.  Considering the facts, it is likely that the offence would be classed as either a category 1 or 2 offence. This is when the harm risk was at its most serious (in this case death) and the likelihood of that harm arising was either high or medium. 

Looking at the new guidelines the fine imposed by the court, appears to sit comfortably within the suggested ranges for a category 1 offence where the culpability of the organisation is considered to have been very high.

Comment

The fine imposed in this case appears to have been made with the draft guidelines in mind, suggesting that much tougher sanctions can be expected for health and safety breaches in future. 

Retailers should look to ensure that they have stringent health and safety systems in place; and that such systems are rigorously followed and evidenced in order to minimise the risk of injury in the work place and avoid facing criminal liability.

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at September 2015. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.

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