New sentencing guidelines on health and safety - what businesses need to know

While the UK has seen a decline in the yearly number of incidents in the workplace over the last decade, there has been an increase in prosecutions as well as financial penalties for breaches in health and safety law since 2014 compared to previous years.

Businesses found to be in breach of the law will face not only financial or legal repercussions but also damage to their brand reputation, potentially discouraging clients from working with them in the future.

When considering whether to work with a business on a project, clients are increasingly considering the business’s handling of issues around diversity, slavery, and employee conditions. As such, a health and safety breach is not just a short-term issue if discovered, but a long-term business perceptional hurdle that businesses may struggle to overcome.

One recent instance of health and safety breach repercussions for business is J G Hale Construction. Based out of South Wales, an unannounced site visit led to an investigation being launched on 27 July. It was found that measures had not been properly implemented for fire prevention posing serious risk to employees, as well as significant risk of injury from the improper management of construction vehicles on site. Improvement notices were served and while the requested improvements were complied with after two more inspections, the business pleaded guilty to safety breaches and was fined £100,000.

Following revised sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences, issued in February 2016, it is more vital than ever that businesses ensure their current as well as future compliance with standards. Though these guidelines were issued by the Sentencing Guidelines Council for England and Wales, the Scottish courts are also using them as a standard for prosecutions.

Under the new sentencing guidelines, a company with a turnover of more than £50m could be fined up to £10m for a health and safety offence, with other companies seeing similar fines calculated as proportionate to their yearly turnover. Additionally, individual failings can also be prosecuted, possibly resulting in imprisonment of senior level individuals responsible for compliance.

The way that the sentencing of offending organisations occurs is by way of a staged consideration, looking at culpability, degree of harm that was risked and what the likelihood is that such harm would occur. Within each of these stages of consideration there is a set of levels to gauge each stage.

To assist firms in this complex and challenging area, the Association for Consultancy and Engineering is holding a series of UK-wide legal updates specifically on health and safety from leading experts in the field.

Click for full details and to register: London (7 September), Manchester (6 October), Glasgow (26 October).