Tougher sentences for companies who fail to protect workers

Companies who are found to have failed to protect their workforce face far tougher sentencing from this month.

New sentencing guidance gives courts in England and Wales new powers to hand down far tougher penalties to employers found guilty of manslaughter through gross negligence – including up to 18 years jail time.

The weight of the sentences handed out will be defined by a wider assessment of company culture and attitude towards health and safety – not simply with respect to a single incident. Those companies who are unable to demonstrate their commitment to employee welfare facing the most severe sentences.

“It’s ultimately about culpability”, said Dave Broxton, managing director of Bohle. “If as an employer, you’ve shown total disregard for the health and safety of staff, the sentence handed down to you will be far more severe than that to a company where ‘the worst’ has happened despite its best efforts.

“The first point is that health and safety should be a priority for all of us, so that ‘the worst’ doesn’t happen, but if it does, as an employer you need to be certain that you had the appropriate controls and systems in place to prevent an incident and that staff are fully trained and equipped.”

The new powers follow the publication of new and comprehensive guidelines by the Sentencing Council in the summer outlining the penalties employers can expect to receive for a host of offences from covering up an assault in the workplace to a fatality caused by negligence.

The sentencing body said that defendants found guilty in gross negligence cases where, for example, an employer’s long-standing and serious disregard for the safety of employees, motivated by cost-cutting, has led to someone being killed – will see the most punitive sentences.

According to the latest available figures from the Glass and Glazing Federation, while the number of reported accidents in the glass industry showed a 12% drop year-on-year from 2015 to 2016, the percentage of these that involved manual handling injuries increased from 17% to 20%.

“Manual handling injuries might not necessarily lead to a fatality (although it’s always possible that they could). If, however, you have a series of manual handling incidents behind you, or anything else for that matter, where it could be interpreted that you had failed to provide the right equipment or PPE, it would count against you under the new sentencing laws”, added Broxton.