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    DEATH AT WORK SENTENCING GUIDE PUBLISHED

    Corporate manslaughter fines start at £500k and H&S at £100k

    The Sentencing Guidelines Council has issue definitive guidelines on sentencing following work related deaths under Corporate Manslaughter and Health and Safety law.

    This is the first offence guideline relating to the sentencing of organisations rather than individuals and concerns sentencing where the death of one or more persons has occurred.

    All sentencing after 15th February 2010 affected

    The Guideline applies to the sentencing of organisations, not individuals, on or after Monday, 15 February 2010. This is unlike the Health & Safety (Offences) Act 2008 which applied only to offences committed on or after a specified date.

    Fines levels for Corporate Manslaughter and Health and Safety offences will start at £500k and £100k respectively. The identified aggravating and mitigating features are in line with those the Courts currently consider.

    Level of fines for Corporate Manslaughter and Health and Safety offences

    The Guideline anticipates a broad range of fines reflecting the range of seriousness involved and circumstances of the defendants.

    Fines do not attempt to value a human life in money but are designed to punish the defendant and are therefore tailored not only to what it has done but also to its individual circumstances.

    However, the Guidelines go on to say:

    Corporate Manslaughter  – an “appropriate fine will seldom be less than £500,000 and may be measured in millions of pounds.”

    Health and Safety  “the appropriate fine will seldom be less than £100,000 and may be measured in hundreds of thousands of pounds or more.

    Factors likely to affect the seriousness of the offence

    The Guideline applies only to corporate manslaughter and to those health and safety offences where the offence is shown to have been a significant cause of the death. By definition, the harm involved is therefore very serious. 

    However, seriousness should ordinarily be assessed first by asking:

    1. How foreseeable was serious injury?
    2. How far short of the applicable standard did the defendant fall?
    3. How common is this kind of breach in this organisation?
    4. How widespread was the non-compliance?
    5. How far up the organisation does the breach go?

    The factors likely to aggravate the offence (not exhaustive):

    • more than one death, or very grave personal injury in addition to death;
    • failure to heed warnings or advice from officials or employees etc;
    • failure to respond appropriately to ‘near misses’ arising in similar circumstances;
    • cost-cutting at the expense of safety;
    • deliberate failure to obtain or comply with relevant licences etc and;
    • injury to vulnerable persons.

    The factors likely to afford mitigation:

    • prompt acceptance of responsibility;
    • high level of co-operation with the investigation, beyond that which will always be expected;
    • genuine efforts to remedy the defect;
    • good health and safety record and;
    • responsible attitude to health and safety, such as the commissioning of expert advice or the consultation of employees or others affected by the organisation’s activities.

    Assessing financial consequences of the sentence

    A fixed correlation between the fine and either turnover or profit is not appropriate. The guidelines suggest that in assessing the financial consequences of a fine, the court should consider (inter alia) the following factors:

    Relevant factors:

    • the effect on the employment of the innocent;
    • whether the fine will have the effect of putting the defendant out of business will be relevant although in some bad cases this may be an acceptable consequence and;
    • the effect upon the provision of services to the public.

    Factors not normally relevant:

    • effect upon shareholders or directors;
    • effect on prices;
    • liability to pay civil compensation and;
    • cost of meeting any remedial order.

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