5. Organisations: Breach of duty of employer towards employees and non-employees/ Breach of duty of self-employed to others/ Breach of Health and Safety regulations

Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (section 33(1)(a) for breaches of sections 2 and 3), Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (section 33(1)(c))
Effective from: 01 February 2016


The court should ‘step back’, review and, if necessary, adjust the initial fine based on turnover to ensure that it fulfils the objectives of sentencing for these offences. The court may adjust the fine upwards or downwards, including outside the range.

Step 3 – Check whether the proposed fine based on turnover is proportionate to the overall means of the offender

General principles to follow in setting a fine

The court should finalise the appropriate level of fine in accordance with section 164 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which requires that the fine must reflect the seriousness of the offence and that the court must take into account the financial circumstances of the offender.

The level of fine should reflect the extent to which the offender fell below the required standard. The fine should meet, in a fair and proportionate way, the objectives of punishment, deterrence and the removal of gain derived through the commission of the offence; it should not be cheaper to offend than to take the appropriate precautions.

The fine must be sufficiently substantial to have a real economic impact which will bring home to both management and shareholders the need to comply with health and safety legislation.

Review of the fine based on turnover

The court should ‘step back’, review and, if necessary, adjust the initial fine reached at step two to ensure that it fulfils the general principles set out above. The court may adjust the fine upwards or downwards including outside of the range.

The court should examine the financial circumstances of the offender in the round to assess the economic realities of the organisation and the most efficacious way of giving effect to the purposes of sentencing.

In finalising the sentence, the court should have regard to the following factors:

  • The profitability of an organisation will be relevant. If an organisation has a small profit margin relative to its turnover, downward adjustment may be needed. If it has a large profit margin, upward adjustment may be needed.
  • Any quantifiable economic benefit derived from the offence, including through avoided costs or operating savings, should normally be added to the fine arrived at in step two. Where this is not readily available, the court may draw on information available from enforcing authorities and others about the general costs of operating within the law.
  • Whether the fine will have the effect of putting the offender out of business will be relevant; in some bad cases this may be an acceptable consequence.

In considering the ability of the offending organisation to pay any financial penalty, the court can take into account the power to allow time for payment or to order that the amount be paid in instalments, if necessary over a number of years.

Step 4 – Consider other factors that may warrant adjustment of the proposed fine

The court should consider any wider impacts of the fine within the organisation or on innocent third parties; such as (but not limited to):

  • the fine impairs offender’s ability to make restitution to victims;
  • impact of the fine on offender’s ability to improve conditions in the organisation to comply with the law;
  • impact of the fine on employment of staff, service users, customers and local economy (but not shareholders or directors).

Where the fine will fall on public or charitable bodies, the fine should normally be substantially reduced if the offending organisation is able to demonstrate the proposed fine would have a significant impact on the provision of its services.