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New draft health and safety sentencing guidelines

8 May 2015

The draft proposed sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences will inevitably increase penalties and a recent case highlights the need for employers including school governing bodies to be vigilant in respect of health and safety.

The governing body of the Judd school in Tonbridge, Kent were prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive following an incident where a 14 year old pupil was hit in the back of the head with a shot put during a multi-sport PE lesson. The school had carried out a risk assessment and referenced guidance by the Association for Physical Education but had not followed the guidance, which in particular recommended that PE lessons be restricted to a maximum of four sports and had failed to implement its own risk assessment.

The court observed this amounted to a ‘substantial’ breach as the risk to the pupils had been significantly increased. The school in Kent were fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £1,375 in costs following a breach of s.3(1) Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Under the new proposed guidelines the court would have been required to scrutinise culpability, harm and the financial position of the defendant. For example, for a small organisation where harm is serious even in cases of medium culpability the proposed range of fine is between £14,000 - £70,000 with a starting point of £30,000. Accordingly the fine could have been much higher and the case highlights the need for schools to ensure that safe systems are implemented and to keep processes and documentation under regular review.

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