New government guidelines being issued for the workplace will mean that fines for health and safety offences will soon rise dramatically.

“The principal factors governing the level of sentencing are the degree of harm done, the degree of culpability of the offending company, and the company’s turnover. This means large organisations in particular could face fines reaching many millions of pounds  for the most serious offences. A ‘large’ organisation for the purposes of the guidelines is one with a turnover in excess of£50 million,” commented Jon Cooper, Partner at Bond Dickinson LLP.

“For example, the recent prosecution of Siemens  Windpower A/S (SWP) and Fluor Limited resulted in fines of£375,000 and £275,000 respectively.  Under the new guidelines the sentencing range in those cases might well have been between £1.5 million and £6 million. Likewise, a recent prosecution of Baxters Food Group Limited resulting in a fine of £60,000 for a non-fatal accident might, under the new guidance, increase to a fine between £550,000 and £2.9 million.

“What companies should be aware of is that the new guidelines will apply to all cases sentenced after the implementation date of 1 February 2016 not all offences committed after that date. Any companies who are currently subject to prosecution and which are likely to plead guilty may well be doing all they can do have those sentences dealt with as soon as possible so as to avoid being sentenced under the new regime.

“This underlines the importance of companies giving their health and safety management systems the highest priority. Having proper procedures in place not only reduces the level of risk of committing an offence in the first place, but it also provides evidence that can be used in mitigation and reduce the level of sentencing faced when an offence is committed.”