Total corporate fines for health and safety breaches have increased by 43%to £54m following tougher sentencing guidelines, according to Thomson Reuters.

The rise follows guidelines from the Sentencing Council being introduced in February last year, directing courts to sentence on a step-by-step approach – looking at culpability and likelihood and seriousness of harm.

It followed the removal of a £5000 cap on fines in March 2015.

Quarter of a million pounds

The average corporate fine was £280,974 in the year following the removal – treble the average for the previous 12 months (£90,604).
Head of business crime and investigations at Thomson Reuters, Morag Rea, said firms are ‘being forced to sit up and take note’ as fines for health and safety offences were significantly higher – and with less regional variation – than before. “The definitive guidelines and removing the cap on fines has proved a potent combination and any breach of health and safety regulations can now be a very costly mistake.” Morag Rea

There have been far fewer corporate manslaughter convictions recently – 24 since the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act was implemented in 2008 – although this may now be on the rise as there were three convictions last March alone.

Gross negligence
The news also comes as new guidance on gross negligence manslaughter sentencing was announced.

Rea said: “The other trend we are seeing is a rise in gross negligence manslaughter convictions where individual directors and site managers or foremen are prosecuted as well as the company.
“The courts have indicated that where lives are put at risk a custodial sentence will usually be appropriate.”

Corporate fines for H&S breaches up 43%