The impact of the Sentencing Guidance is felt across sectors

Published: 16 Jan 2018

Over the last 6 weeks or so we have witnessed the full effect of the Sentencing Guidance across numerous sectors. Accidents and breaches in health and safety regulations have seen fines ranging from 100K to 2 million pounds being issued. These cases include slip, trip and fall hazards, manual handling and working at heights. If the basics of health and safety management had been implemented, these unfortunate situations could easily have been avoided.

We take a look at a few of these recent cases:

  • Falling from heights: IKO Design Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching Working at Height Regulations after a worker died following a fall through a skylight whilst re-siting a heater and new chimney flue. The company were fined £100k and ordered to pay £35000 in damages. It became apparent that risks associated to the task had not been identified and adequate control measures were not in place.
  • Slip, trips and fall: One Stop Ltd was fined £250K after the convenience store failed to repair a pothole in the forecourt which resulted a customer sustaining life changing injuries.
  • Manual handling accident: Associated British Ports were fined £666000 after a 600 kg bag of fertilizer fell on an employee who was removing pallets from the stack. It was established that the company failed to follow their risk assessment.
  • 24 Breaches in Health and Safety at Work Act results in £1 Million pound fine: Following a complaint from one of its workers, EHO’s carried out investigations at Poundstretcher stores in Newbury, Newhaven and Swindon which resulted in the retail chain being hit with a £1m fine.

The chain pleaded guilty to a total of 24 counts of breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 following inspections by environmental health officers. Inspections discovered in the Newhaven store in December 2014 that emergency exits were blocked and stock was stored in a dangerous fashion. Further enquiries revealed that the firm did not follow its own safety procedures and guidance.

The Sentencing Guidelines 

Criteria used by the courts to determine the sentencing of offences are as follows:

1) The level of capability will need to be established and is broken down into 4 main categories: Very High (deliberate or flagrant breach of law), High (falling short of the appropriate standard), Medium (fell below high and low categories) and low (evidence that failings were minor and not systemic).

2) The level of harm would need to be compared against the seriousness of the risk level (i.e. Level A, Level B and Level C). Level A being the most serious category which has resulted in death, e.g. working at heights.

3) The organisational category of the company based on turnover will need to be established for sentencing purposes with ranges predetermined for very large companies to micro companies:

Very large companies will be classified as a turnover > £50 Million

Micro Companies will be classified as having a turnover < £2 Million.

It is important to note that individuals can also be sentenced where custody thresholds will be set for neglect, e.g. 18 month custodial sentences starting point for convictions of very high culpability/harm in health and safety breaches. Similar sentencing criteria will be employed for serious food safety offences.

4) Inflationary factors which the courts may take into account for increasing fines will be a) If there was a risk of death and b) was more than one member of the public or work force exposed to the risk?

5) It is important to remember that whilst actual harm may not have occurred, the offence lies in not managing the risk.

Common failings noted from the majority of cases sentenced since February 2016 include failure to have in place and implement suitable and sufficient risk assessments, following company health and safety policy, implementation of safe systems of work and providing adequate training of staff. Breaches in food safety legislation has also resulted in massive fines being issued in the hospitality industry.

To ensure that your business meets legal compliance, contact CSC today and our team of experts will be happy to provide assistance.