Corporate manslaughter always involves at least one death, while health and safety breaches can pose a minor risk or lead to multiple fatalities. Food offenses can range from poor hygiene or preparation standards in a restaurant kitchen that put customers at risk of illness to failings that cause fatal food poisoning.
The number of criminal prosecutions for serious wrongdoing brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has jumped from 24 in 2012 to 52 in 2015, according to data obtained by online compliance business Cerico.
Cerico also found that number of appeals received by the HSE had gone up from 13 to 20. "The problem for so many corporates is that they do want to be compliant, but particularly for large organizations with huge workforces and outsourced services, that can be incredibly hard," said Rosie Garrigan, consultant at Cerico.
The guidelines, to be unveiled by the Sentencing Council suggest that judges should impose fines in relation to the size of the convicted organization. Under the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act 2007, there is no upper limit on penalties. The £20m fine level will be for firms with an annual turnover of more than £50m, and up to £10m for fatal health and safety offenses.
Laura Cameron, head of the regulatory practice at law firm Pinsent Masons, added: "These figures bring into sharp focus the impact that new sentencing guidelines will have at the turn of the year. The level of penalties will be raised and these numbers indicate that the enforcement authorities will have no hesitation in pursuing the most serious cases."
"Under new guidance that could result in fines of up to £20m. The turnover of parent companies may also be considered in that calculation. Corporates now face a race against time to get their compliance processes in order."
Pinsent Masons advises that currently a breach of health and safety leading to a death can result in a fine of between £100,000 and £500,000, although large businesses could be expected to pay more.
Rod Ainsworth, Director of Regulatory and Legal Strategy at the Food Standards Agency, welcomed the guidelines.
He said: " They will ensure that there is consistency in sentencing for food safety and food hygiene offenses across the country. They will also ensure that offenders are sentenced fairly and proportionately in the interests of consumers."