New Sentencing Guidelines for Health and Safety Offences – Five things you need to know

New guidelines from the Sentencing Council for health and safety offences come into effect from 1st February 2016 and may lead to greater fines and more people being imprisoned.

It’s the law

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is the primary piece of legislation covering occupational health in Great Britain. The frequent use of this Act to explain away responsibility for certain activities can lead to complacency about its importance and legal standing in keeping employees safer at work for the past 40 years. We are all familiar with the headlines about children banned from playing conkers, office workers prevented from putting up Christmas decorations, trapeze artists ordered to wear hard hats and hanging baskets being removed in case people bump their heads, none of which are in fact covered or banned by health and safety law.

However, health and safety law does apply to risks from violence, just as it does to other risks from work and under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 employers have a legal duty to ensure, so far as it is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees. Failing to address risks and put measures in place to mitigate them is breaking the law.

Identify the risks

The latest Sentencing Guidelines help to focus the mind on the importance of identifying workplace risks and taking steps to reduce them. A new culpability scale and an emphasis on creating a risk of harm, rather than the outcome of an incident, point the spotlight more closely onto risk management and means that a fine or sentence can still be significant even when someone is not badly injured.

Imprisonment and fines

As well as a lower threshold for imprisonment, the guidelines introduce a closer relationship between the level of fines and an organisation's ability to pay. Fines for large organisations convicted of the most serious health and safety offences should fall between £4m and £10m with larger fines applying to organisations with turnovers well in excess of £50m.

New culpability scale

The culpability scale ranges from low to very high and with criteria such as ‘ignoring concerns raised by employees or others’ and ‘failing to make appropriate changes following prior incidents exposing risks to health and safety’ describing the high culpability level, it is easy to foresee how an incident could fall into this area. Were the incident also to have caused serious harm, then the consequences and resulting sentence are likely to be significant.

Having systems in place that are not sufficiently adhered to or implemented falls into the medium culpability category and can be a difficult area to address, often requiring cultural changes or increased supervision. It’s the nature of many humans to cut corners or to take the easier route,  perhaps not realising or understanding that the systems and processes are there to protect them and others and are not simply ‘bureaucracy gone mad’ or ‘red tape’ to make their job more difficult. Maybo training helps staff to understand employer guidance and their own responsibilities and importantly, develops capability and confidence in how to implement these.  

In practice, most organisations have sufficient measures in place and follow the intent as well as the letter of the Health and Safety at Work Act, however, unintended breeches can and do occur and being aware of the potential financial and custodial penalties can create the motivation to review existing measures and ensure the risks have been correctly identified and are being managed.

5 Key Facts

  1. Work related violence is covered by the Health and Safety and Work Act 1974
  2. The new guidelines move to risk based rather than outcome based sentencing
  3. Lower threshold for imprisonment
  4. There is a closer relationship between the level of fines and an organisation's ability to pay
  5. Introduction of a culpability scale

Read the new guidelines

Managing workplace violence risks





Posted by Maybo on January 18, 2016


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