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Corporate Defence Update: February 2017

2016 – A game changing year in health and safety?

Having achieved its first anniversary, there has been a massive change in the landscape of health and safety law following the introduction of new sentencing guidelines in February 2016 which are serving to catch companies and organisations on the hop.

These guidelines (which unusually apply retrospectively) concern Health and Safety, Food Safety, and Corporate Manslaughter offences.

Stealing the concept from the financial World, the fine is now determined by turnover (not profit!) and factors such as ‘risk of harm’ as opposed to actual harm. After decades of relative stability in this area we are now witnessing a change in the tide as the guideline is applied in the criminal Courts. Unlike before, fines are now routinely hitting the £1million mark for non-fatal offences.

We have seen, in recent months, well publicised examples such as the prosecution of Merlin Entertainment who received the highest fine to date (£5 million) following the Alton Towers rollercoaster crash. However, what is less known is the significant impact on companies and organisations in the ‘medium’ sized category (with a turnover between £10-£50 million) which are the subject of the most disproportionate fines when compared with turnover.

Not surprisingly, there has been an upward surge in the number of prosecutions brought by the Health and Safety Executive and similar bodies. But it is not only companies and organisations that are being increasingly prosecuted. Noticeably, directors and senior managers are also being targeted. The latest figures from the Health and Safety Executive confirm that prosecutions against individuals have trebled in a year!

It is, without doubt, a sign that enforcement agencies are displaying an increased zest to prosecute the most senior individuals and make this a serious boardroom issue!

Where will this lead?

The most recent figures make grim reading – in the 6 months since the guideline was imposed fines have risen by a remarkable 43% in the same period last year. We have only just started to see the new guidelines ‘bite’ and therefore the statistics are almost certainly going to get much worse before they get better.

Despite the recent spike in high profile prosecutions and fines, our experience is that the majority of companies and organisations are still ignorant of these trends and the serious risks to their balance sheet!

How can we help?

Corporate and organisation awareness is the complete key to dealing with this matter – the early stages of any investigation are absolutely crucial and the need to obtain legal advice, including representation, equally so!

Faced with such an investigation, it is important that you have the benefit of representation from lawyers who have been there and done it before. With the ability to advise companies and organisations all across the Country, our team are on hand to assist 24/7.

We can also assess internal health and safety policies and provide seminars to corporate, public, and charitable bodies so that, in the face of a serious incident, the risk of prosecution is kept to a minimum.

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.
Paul Burnley

Author: Paul Burnley


Daniel McNally - Compliance and Regulatory Lawyer

Author: Daniel McNally

Managing Associate

Author: Lisa Gilligan

Managing Partner - Leicester

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