New sentencing guidelines which came into force on 1 February ensure firms are heavily fined for health and safety breaches, a report says.

The new sentencing guidelines for use by courts in England and Wales in health and safety, corporate manslaughter and food safety, and food hygiene cases will link fines to the risk of harm as a result of failings, rather than actual harm caused, it said.

Earlier this year, security firm G4S felt the full force of the new sentencing guidelines, when it was fined £1.8 million after one of its employees contracted legionellosis, despite environmental health officers unable to find any definitive link between the employee’s condition and the health and safety breaches discovered at the site.

Legionellosis, a potentially fatal form of pneumonia caused by inhaling contaminated water droplets, was never officially found at the site, but health officers still uncovered significant failures in the way the building’s water systems were operated and managed.

G4S pleaded guilty to two charges under the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act in June, and will have to pay an additional £34,000 to cover the costs of the Chelmsford Crown Court prosecuting authority.

Large and very large businesses can now expect to face fines of more than £1 million for similar breaches, the report said, making pro-active investment in health and safety risk management measures essential.