May 29, 2013 |

The Sentencing Council for England and Wales has put forward proposals to significantly increase the penalties for health and safety offences, with recommended fines rising to £20m for larger organisations convicted of corporate manslaughter and up to £10m for cases of fatal health and safety failures. Until now, the largest fine imposed on any offender for corporate manslaughter has been £500,000.

Under the proposed guidelines, the new tougher sentences would be more in proportion to the size of the offender, reflecting widespread concerns that current fines are too low to make an effective impact on large companies, and recognising the seriousness of offences that result in death or life-changing injury.
The Councils guidelines will apply to all organisations and individuals prosecuted under the Health and Safety at Work Act or the CDM Regulations, and although recommended fines will be set at levels related to the turnover of an organization, in cases where the Court considers that the offence is the result of blatant or deliberate disregard, a fine might be imposed that would make the offender insolvent.
The proposals suggest that medium-sized companies could face fines of £4m, and individuals fined from 25% to 700% of their weekly income ”“ with custodial sentences for the most serious offences.
In exceptional circumstances, or for very large organisations, the guidelines suggest fines could be much higher than this. Equally mitigating factors, such as a previous good record, would be taken into account.
Aimed at improving the consistency of sentencing as well as increasing penalties, the proposed guidelines will be subject to consultation with the public, judges, magistrates and relevant bodies until 18 February 2015, and on the basis of the response the Sentencing Council is expected to issue formal guidelines later in the year.

A roofing contractor has been fined £10,000 after a 17-year-old mental health patient broke her back and pelvis when she fell over six metres from the roof of the Royal Preston Hospital in Fullwood.
W Hughes and Son Ltd was prosecuted by the HSE after an investigation found the company had failed to prevent access to the scaffolding on the site.
The 17-year-old, who was staying in the hospital’s Mental Health Unit, was able to climb the scaffolding on 17 October 2013.
She fell from the roof in the gap between two buildings and the emergency services had to remove a hospital window to free her. She was in hospital for several weeks as a result of her injuries.
W Hughes and Son Ltd, of Preston, was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £516 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to a breach of the CDM Regulations.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Chris Smith said:
“A vulnerable teenager was badly injured because W Hughes and Son Ltd failed to make sure its scaffolding was properly fenced off. Construction firms have a legal duty to make sure construction sites are secure and clearly signed but that didn’t happen in this case. It’s vital that companies think carefully about how they plan projects in public places, such as hospitals, so that members of the public are not put at risk.”

A revised version of the Approved Code of Practice has been issued for the Safe Use of Lifting Equipment under the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998.

If you need any further advice on these or any other matters of concern please do call one of our independent Health and Safety Advisors on 01925 654158.