Just over eight months have passed since the Sentencing Council's revised Sentencing Guidelines for Health and Safety, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety Offences came into force. It was anticipated that tougher sanctions would be imposed on larger organisations for health and safety offences and to date the courts have delivered as forecasted.
The guidelines sought to ensure that any fines imposed not only reflect the seriousness of the offence committed but also have real economic impact on the offender. The intention was to level the playing field for corporate offenders, with the introduction of a 'tariff-based' approach which links the level of fine to the turnover of the offending organisation.
Since the guidelines came into force, we have seen a number of high profile organisations receiving very large fines, some even record breaking, including:
In February Conoco Phillips (UK) Limited, whose turnover exceeds £4 billion, was the first very large organisation to be convicted and sentenced under the new guidelines. The company received a fine of £3 million for three breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act following a series of un-controlled gas releases. This set a new record at the time for the largest level of fine handed down for health and safety breaches following a non-fatal incident (superseded just over six months later by the sentence handed down to Alton Towers).
G4S were prosecuted after one of its employees contracted legionella and received a fine of £1.8 million, despite the fact that environmental health officers were unable to establish a definitive link between the incident and the company's health and safety breaches.
Recently Network Rail received a fine of £4 million for breaching s3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act following a fatality on a level crossing in August 2011. The company, whose turnover in 2015 was £6 billion, could have received a higher fine (in the region of £6 million) under the new Sentencing Guidelines had it not pleaded guilty at the first opportunity.
Alton Towers recently received a fine of £5 million following the incident on its Smiler roller-coaster in June last year. Once again in this case a credit was applied for early guilty plea which reduced the level of sentence imposed significantly.
Recently Foodles Production (UK) Ltd, were sentenced in relation to an accident involving Harrison Ford which occurred on-set whilst filming the latest Star Wars movie. The company received a fine of £1.6 million after pleading guilty to two charges brought by the HSE.
The above examples demonstrate that the courts are showing a clear willingness to hand down heftier fines to larger organisations found guilty of health and safety offences and we anticipate that this trend is set to continue.
If you would like to discuss the implications of the Sentencing Guidelines in further detail or require advice on any other regulatory matters, please contact Duncan Reed on 0333 0060742.
This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at October 2016. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.