Tougher sentencing guidelines that could see higher fines issued to employers who breach their health and safety obligations have come into force.

Described as the most dramatic change to health and safety legislation since the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act, the introduction of the guidelines marks the first time that crown courts and magistrates in England and Wales will be obliged to follow detailed guidelines on health and safety, corporate manslaughter and food safety and hygiene offences. Until now, guidance has been unclear and was usually reserved for the most serious health and safety breaches.

The guidelines take into account three main factors:

  • the degree of harm caused
  • the culpability of the offender
  • the turnover of the offending organisation.

Latest statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that more than 600,000 people suffered an injury that occurred at work during 2014-15 and 142 people were killed at work during the same period.

Tom Jones, head of policy at Thompsons Solicitors, a leading trade union and accident at worklaw firm, said: “Employers are legally required to comply with health and safety regulations and to implement appropriate health and safety procedures. Employees should be able to get up and go to work each day, safe in the knowledge that their health and safety is not being put at risk.

“Given that too many unscrupulous employers still cut corners and fail to implement anything approaching a reasonable system for the health and safety of their employees it is positive to see that more serious attempts are being made to punish those who ignore the law, but this may be futile if we do not have a properly resourced HSE able to proactively look for breaches. The government must invest in the HSE to make businesses of all sizes realise that if they fail to protect their staff they will feel the full force of the law.”