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Tougher penalties on the way for health and safety offences

Luke Whitmore - Law on the Web

  1. 20 October 2015
  2. Business
  3. 0 comments

Businesses would do well to take note that health and safety guidelines are seeing some significant tightening up this year, with the potential for more severe penalties for those who fail to heed them.

Back in March, magistrates’ courts were given the ability to impose unlimited fines for a number of offences, including health and safety breaches which lead to employees or members of the public suffering injury. Prior to this, the cost of fines was set at certain levels, but the penalty amount is now entirely up to the magistrate for offences committed after the 12th of March 2015.

It’s not just health and safety offences that are affected by the change – environmental law, food safety breaches, trading regulations, licensing and planning rules, and data protection are all getting the same treatment. However, further changes to health and safety regulations are set to come in early 2016, with the introduction of new sentencing guidelines.

These new guidelines are expected to be tied to the size of the organisation in question, meaning that bigger companies will likely face heftier fines as the amount will probably be calculated based on their annual turnover. Harsher measures such as custodial sentences are also anticipated for more cases than at present. Food safety offences and corporate manslaughter cases will also be covered by these new sentencing rules, which are being compared to the stiffer punishments for environmental offences which came into force in July 2014.

The full guidelines, as well as the results of a consultation on the topic, are due to be published in November, and they will come into force in all courts in England and Wales in February 2016. Companies skirting the rules may want to get their houses in order by then – although these guidelines are expected to be retroactive, so for the worst offenders it may already be too late.

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