With stiffer sentencing guidelines for health and safety, corporate manslaughter and food safety and hygiene offences on their way for England and Wales, organisations should tighten up health and safety compliance across their supply chain and push it further up the board room agenda, says Gary Plant.
New sentencing guidelines published on 3 November 2015 and coming into force on 1 February 2016, aim to create a consistent, fair and proportionate approach to sentencing organisations or individuals convicted of corporate manslaughter, health and safety and food safety and hygiene offences.
Hitherto, guidance for the courts in dealing with less serious health and safety and food safety offences has been lacking. The comprehensive new guidelines will cover the most commonly sentenced health and safety offences and food safety offences in England and Wales.
According to the Sentencing Council, this could cover: "a building firm that causes the death of an employee by not providing the proper equipment for working at height, a restaurant that causes an outbreak of e. coli poisoning through unsafe food preparation, a manufacturer that causes injury to a new worker by not providing training for operating machinery or a gas fitter whose sub-standard work leads to the risk of an explosion in someone’s home."
Larger penalties for larger organisations
Large organisations (taking into account turnover or other measures of financial health) committing serious offences could feel the full force of the changes in higher penalties. The Sentencing Council has stated that some offenders will be subject to higher penalties, particularly large organisations responsible for more serious offences.
But it says that fines will be "fair and proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and the means of offenders." As such, the guidelines set out sentencing ranges that reflect the varied levels of risk of harm that can result from such offences.
The guidelines provide a starting point and a range of possible fines dependent on the seriousness of the offence and how culpable the offender is judged to be. This could range from minor failings in procedures to deliberately dangerous acts. For serious health and safety breaches, individual company directors could face prison sentences and heavy fines.
Assessing risk in your supply chain
The new guidelines mean there is nowhere to hide when it comes to facing up to health and safety breaches and even if procedures and policies are robust in your own organisation, you could face exposure from suppliers. It is business critical for organisations to scrutinise their health and safety policies, training and compliance, and ensure that risk is assessed across the entire supply chain and standards are applied and continuously monitored.
It's more crucial than ever before that companies have robust compliance procedures. This might mean swapping archaic spreadsheet-based compliance systems for more agile software systems that provide total supply chain visibility and a complete health and safety compliance audit trail that is easily accessible and retrievable should a company end up defending itself.
Free guide to managing contractors
To help businesses better manage contractors, Altius has created the free guide, Improving Contractor Performance with Compliance: A Guide for Facilities Managers. The guide can help you find a better approach to managing your supplier lists, give tips on objective decision making, and help you find the right tools for monitoring contractor compliance. Download your free guide by clicking here.