One of the main reasons behind the legislation was public disquiet at large companies who had killed workers receiving minimal or no sentences. New proposals fail to address that concern according to Thompsons Solicitors, the UK’s leading trade union law firm.

The opportunity for a clear message to employers which might prevent deaths has been lost. Proposals contained in a recent Sentencing Guidelines Council (SGC) consultation is only for a minimum £500,000 fine, with no link to turnover.

Mick Antoniw of Thompsons said: “We called for a flexible deterrent with teeth, what we have got is a sledgehammer. This looks tough but won’t be effective. The minimum fine approach will close down some companies and be peanuts to others. Allowing the courts to levy a penalty based on 5-25% of turnover and proper use of Remedial Orders would have been a proper deterrent.

“This positively encourages the small employer who is cavalier about health and safety and would be bust by a £500k fine to carry on regardless and won’t put a dent in the profits of a big company which doesn’t care.

Whilst putting a value on someone’s life is impossible, whatever is levelled needs to both meaningfully punish and positively deter.

“Two firms were fined £500,000 eight years ago following the deaths of four motorway workers at Avonmouth Bridge. This proposal does not take us much further.”

Thompsons said their disappointment went further. Victim’s families are still not to be consulted on the level of fines set and the SGC have failed to give the courts the ability to include in the list of aggravating factors an employer’s failure to involve their workers in health and safety, a poor safety record or a lack of employers and/or public liability insurance.

And Thompsons condemns the scant reference to Remedial Orders in the consultation guidelines is shocking.

Mick Antoniw said: “Remedial orders are one of the most significant changes in health and safety penalties yet they warrant barely a mention. They are a potentially powerful new tool which gives virtually unlimited power to the courts to intervene in the operation of a company and seek positive improvements in health and safety and yet the SGC has left the courts to grapple with them unaided .”