Tougher fines for health and safety offences proposed

Health and safety worker The Sentencing Council wants to crack down on companies cutting corners on health and safety

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Large organisations committing corporate manslaughter could face tougher fines of up to £20m in England and Wales, a Sentencing Council review has proposed.

Fatal health and safety offences could also carry fines of up to £10m, the new guidelines said.

Examples of cases include pedestrians killed by falling scaffolding or an employee injured by faulty machinery.

The review follows concerns of a "lack of comprehensive guidance".

The council proposes that starting points and ranges for fines should be set out in guidelines, taking into consideration the offenders means and the seriousness of the offence to ensure: "proportionate sentences."

Current guidelines are "vague" and do not set out any upper limits for fines or starting points based on the size of the company involved, which the council says often results in organisations being under penalised.

Flouting responsibilities

In 2013/14, there were 133 cases of fatal injuries at work while 70 members of the public were injured in work-related accidents, according to the Health and Safety Executive.

The review found that because cases were relatively unusual, sentences were "not always familiar with how to deal with them".

The Sentencing Council has no legislative powers, so their guidelines must fit within current legal limits. They must also consider the financial means of the offender when considering fines.

Comprehensive food safety sentencing guidelines were included for the first time, which covers incidents such as food poisoning in a restaurant with poor hygiene or a takeaway with a cockroach infestation.

Sentencing levels for level health and safety offences are unlikely to change as the review said punishments were already proportionate.

Notable corporate manslaughter cases

Sentencing Council member Michael Caplan QC said he wanted to ensure that "these crimes don't pay".

"Businesses that put people at risk by flouting their responsibilities are undercutting those that play by the rules and do their best to keep people safe.

"Our proposals will help ensure a consistent approach to sentencing, allowing fair and proportionate sentences across the board, with some of the most serious offenders facing tougher penalties."

The consultation period that runs from 13 November until 18 February.

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