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From the CEO's Desk

28 January 2016

Having been dubbed the most dramatic change in health and safety enforcement since 1974, the new sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences which came into force on 1st February have a lot to live up to.

To help businesses understand how the guidelines will affect them, the BSIF are publishing a booklet for Federation Members entitled BSIF Brief - Health & Safety Sentencing Guidelines 2016.

In essence the guidelines create a new matrix into which the details of the offence, the circumstances and turnover of the offender are plotted, this process then dictates the punishment.

Companies prosecuted for Health and Safety offences will be placed in one of four bands depending on their turnover:

  • Micro (with a turnover of up to £2million)
  • Small (a turnover of between £2m and £10m)
  • Medium (up to £50m)
  • Large (more than £50m).

From 1 February, large companies could face fines of over £10m for the most serious health and safety offences and more than £20m for corporate manslaughter convictions under new sentencing guidelines. The previous starting threshold recommended for all corporate manslaughter convictions was £500,000, but under the new guidelines, a Category A (high culpability) offence committed by a large organisation would start at £7.5m with a category range of between £4.8m to £20m.

A medium sized company convicted of a Category A offence can expect a fine of between £1.8m and £7.5m, with a benchmark of £3m. For small organisations, a Category A offence would start at £800,000 with a category range of between £540,000 to £2.8m. For micro organisations the starting point for a fine after a high culpability corporate manslaughter offence will be £450,000, which is below the £500,000 suggested in the current guideline.

The BSIF supports both the consistency that this approach will deliver and the fundamental proposition that neglecting occupational safety and health will result in increased punishment levels.

However one concern that the BSIF has raised is the potential for trials to take even longer to progress as the significant raising of fines and the evidencing of applicable turnover levels will take time in a process that is, we believe, already taking too long. Often the results of a prosecution are a long time after the incident has taken place. This can reduce the public impact as it appears to be a situation that occurred years ago with the assumption that things would surely have changed since then.

Apart from the linking of fines directly to the level of the turnover of a business which is found guilty the most significant change to be aware of is where previously a sentence has reflected the outcome of an offence, that is the resulting injury; from 1 February the fact of the 'exposure' to the risk will be clearly reflected in a sentence whether an injury has actually occurred or not. Take for example, an employee falls off a ladder and breaks an ankle – the new sentencing guidelines could recognise this as a risk of death situation rather than consider it just on the result, ie the broken ankle.

The new guidelines have the potential to prove very costly to business when you consider annually over 600,000 workers are injured in workplace accidents. As a consequence, businesses will now be further motivated to ensure their risk assessments are complete and their safety and health programmes are fit for purpose. This can only be a good thing for workers and the ultimately the UK economy.

Update on PPE regulations

Since 19 January, the PPE Regulations have now been approved by the Plenary of the European Parliament. The Regulations just require formal ratification in the Council. We can look forward to publication of the new Regulations imminently.

Alan Murray, BSIF chief executive

Tel: 01442 248744