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Firms threatened with larger fines to improve safety

Waste businesses convicted of serious health and safety offences face tougher penalties under new guidelines proposed by the Sentencing Council.

There is currently no specific guidance covering non-fatal health and safety offences in England and Wales. A consultation has been launched by the Sentencing Council over concerns many fines are “too low”.

The proposed fines have been set at a level to deter businesses that “are often motivated by saving money at the expense of safety”.

The consultation said: “Fines should therefore be big enough to have a real economic impact which will bring home to the offending organisation the importance of achieving a safe environment for those affected by its activities.”

Sentencing levels for lower level offences are unlikely to change significantly.

The proposals follow advice issued to magistrates in February on sentencing environmental offences. The Sentencing Council was concerned some magistrates were not familiar enough with waste crime and that corporate offenders often found it cheaper to break the law than to follow regulations.

Sentencing Council member Michael Caplan QC said: “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.

“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.”

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recently prosecuted a recycling firm after an employee nearly lost a leg when it became trapped in a glass sorting machine.

The company was fined £10,000. Under the new guidelines, depending on the company’s income and level of culpability for the offence, a similar prosecution could result in a fine of up to £2.7m.

The latest HSE statistics show number of major incidents in the waste and recycling sector has fallen below a five-year average.

The number of offences and cases heard in 2013-14 were below the previous five year average, but fines were higher.

The HSE prosecuted 25 waste and recycling cases. All but one resulted in guilty verdicts, with an average fine of £59,500.

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