UK businesses are not trying hard enough to keep their workers safe, says the Sentencing Council, and should be fined up to £20m for “corporate manslaughter” if their negligence leads to death.
The government body, which advises judges on appropriate sentencing, says that existing fines are too small to hurt most companies financially and so fail to incentivise them to improve their safety measures. This relates to a range of health and safety issues, ranging from fatal gas leaks and injuries caused by machinery through to passers-by killed by falling scaffolding.
The guidance also extends to food-related violations, with the Sentencing Council advising that similar rules apply to restaurants and takeaways with poor hygiene or pest infestations. Companies whose food health and safety offences prove fatal could be fined up to £10m, they said.
133 workers and 70 members of the public were killed in UK workplace-related accidents last year, with construction workers at the greatest risk. The new guidelines, which are still in draft stage, will be opened up to public consultation in order to gather the perspectives of those working in industry, as well as regulatory and criminal justice systems.
“We want to ensure that these crimes don’t pay. They can have extremely serious consequences and businesses that put people at risk by flouting their responsibilities are undercutting those that maintain proper standards and do their best to keep people safe,” said Michael Caplan QC, a member of the Sentencing Council.
“Our proposals will help ensure a consistent approach to sentencing, allowing fair and proportionate sentences across the board, with some of the most serious offenders facing tougher penalties.”