Businesses implicated in the most serious corporate manslaughter, health and safety and food hygiene cases will face tougher penalties under a new sentencing regime.
The first comprehensive guidelines for magistrates and judges penalising firms found to have caused death, illness or injury are published by the Sentencing Council today.
Offences falling under the framework could include a building firm that causes the death of an employee by not providing the proper equipment for working at height, a restaurant that causes an outbreak of E.coli poisoning through unsafe food preparation, a manufacturer that causes injury to a new worker by not providing training for operating machinery or a gas fitter whose sub-standard work leads to the risk of an explosion in someone's home.
While prison sentences are available for individuals convicted of very serious offences, most offences are committed by organisations and therefore fines are the only sentence that can be given.
The Sentencing Council said it does not anticipate an increase in penalties across the board, but higher fines are possible in some cases - particularly those involving large organisations found to have committed serious offences.
It said: "The increase in penalties for serious offending has been introduced because in the past, some offenders did not receive fines that properly reflected the crimes they committed.
"The Council wants fines for these offences to be fair and proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and the means of offenders."
The guidelines set out sentencing ranges that reflect different levels of risk of harm.
Corporate manslaughter always involves at least one death, while health and safety breaches can pose a minor risk or lead to multiple fatalities. Food offences 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.
An offending firm's turnover will be used as a starting point for the size of the fine.
Offences can attract an unlimited fine but the expected range of penalties depending on culpability, harm and turnover are: £50 to £10million for health and safety breaches, £180,000 to £20million for corporate manslaughter and £100 to £3million for food safety and hygiene offences.
The guidelines cover offences committed by organisations or individuals in the course of their business activities in England and Wales do not relate to food frauds such as those relating to the horsemeat scandal.
Sentencing Council member Michael Caplan QC said:"These guidelines will introduce a consistent approach to sentencing, ensuring fair and proportionate sentences for those who cause death or injury to their employees and the public or put them at risk.
"These offences can have very serious consequences and it is important that sentences reflect these."
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 offences across the country. They will also ensure that offenders are sentenced fairly and proportionately in the interests of consumers."