On 1 February 2016 the Sentencing Council implemented new guidelines for sentencing health and safety offences in England and Wales with the intent of improving transparency and consistency in penalties for organisations.

The Health and Safety Offences, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety and Hygiene Offences Definitive Guideline (to give the document its full name) states that the level of fine should not only correspond to the offence itself but also to the turnover of the offending organisation.

Since its introduction we have seen a number of changes in health and safety penalties – namely larger fines (the average fine has tripled), a reduced number of enforcement notices issued by the Health and Safety Executive, and half the number of prosecutions.

Fines: The average fine handed out by courts increased from just over £54,000 in 2015-16 to more than £150,000 in 2018-19.

Enforcement notices: Provisional figures for 2019-20 showed there were 7075 notices, the lowest since 2007-08.

Prosecutions: In 2019-20 prosecutions to court were down to 355, from 711 in 2015-16.

The average fine amount rose sharply in the first few years following the new guidelines (80% in the first year1), particularly for larger organisations. Ruth Wilkinson, Head of Health and Safety at IOSH, believes that the guidelines have contributed to having “a significant impact on persuading businesses to invest further in looking after their workers2.”

While some courts have been more sympathetic when dealing with COVID-19 health and safety arguments, organisations still need to take heed of what the guide itself states: ‘The fine must be sufficiently substantial to have a real economic impact which will bring home to both management and shareholders the need to comply with health and safety legislation’3.

See the full guidelines.

Gallagher has a wealth of resource to help clients manage their employee and workforce risk. If you would like some additional support please contact your usual Gallagher representative.

1. https://www.ioshmagazine.com/uk-safety-fines-rose-80-first-year-new-sentencing-guidelines
2. https://www.ioshmagazine.com/2021/02/02/sentencing-guideline-five-years-on
3. https://www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/HS-offences-definitive-guideline-FINAL-web.pdf