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?How can we help?

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.