As of 1st February 2015, new sentencing guidelines came into force for employers convicted under Corporate Manslaughter as well as Health and Safety legislation. Regardless of when the offence actually took place, tougher fines will be handed out to any case heard on or after this date.
The reason for the changes is because of an inconsistency in the level of fines being imposed in health and safety cases according to Vikki Woodfine, partner and head of road haulage and logistics at legal firm DWF.
She told Fleet News: “The new guidelines will undoubtedly see unprecedented levels of fines being imposed, with seven-figure fines becoming increasingly common.”
New sentencing guidelines
The previous penalties that big companies had to pay for health and safety breaches came under criticism for not being sufficient enough, as they failed to send a message to shareholders about the importance of good health and safety management.
However, new sentencing guidelines attempt to change this, as large companies with an annual turnover of more than £50 million will now face fines of up to £10 million for the most serious health and safety offences. Furthermore, companies convicted of the separate offence of corporate manslaughter could be forced to pay fines of up to £20 million too.
Woodfine added: “By basing penalties on a number of matters, including turnover, courts will be able to impose huge fines on those large companies, even in cases where there is no fatality or even an injury.”
Example of conviction
Woodfine believes that the new guidelines could be in part due to the first corporate manslaughter conviction involving a commercial driver. In August 2011, Lindsay Easton died from multiple injuries while driving a 130-tonne mobile crane on a road from Scout Moor quarry in Edenfield, near Ramsbottom, when the brake system failed.
The vehicle lost control and crashed into an earth bank on a steep access road. An investigation launched by Lancashire Police alongside the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that several of the wheel brakes were inoperable, worn or contaminated. The engine braking systems were also found to be non-functional, disabled or damaged, providing limited braking force.
As a result, Baldwins Crane Hire were fined £700,000 and ordered to pay £200,000 in costs at Preston Crown Court. But if the company had been sentenced under the new guidelines, the starting point of the fine would be between £2m and £3m.