Employers who disregard the safety of employees could face longer sentences under comprehensive guidelines drawn up, for the first time, for manslaughter offences.

In a consultation paper today, the Sentencing Council says developing a guideline for manslaughter by gross negligence has been particularly challenging because the offence occurs relatively rarely but in a wide range of circumstances.

Factors indicating 'high culpability' include negligent conduct motivated by financial gain or cost avoidance. The council says this would apply, for example, where an employer decides not to provide adequate safety equipment to save money.

It may also apply where several people have breached their duty of care and the offender was in a position of influence. 

High culpability will also apply when the offender was clearly aware of the risk of death arising from negligent conduct. The council says: 'There are some situations where the offender was clearly aware of the risk of death either because it had been pointed out and/or acknowledged by the offender or because it was so obvious that the offender was clearly aware of it.'

The consultation paper states that in considering the factors that make an offence of gross negligence manslaughter more or less serious, 'the council came to the conclusion that it would be appropriate for sentences to increase in some situations. Typically these are cases where an employer has had a long standing, utter disregard for the safety of employees and is motivated by cost cutting - but there may be other analogous factual scenarios where sentences would also rise under the proposed guideline'.

The starting point for sentences where there is high culpability is eight years.

An existing guideline for manslaughter by reason of provocation issued by the council's predecessor body is now out of date following legislative changes to the partial defences to murder. There are no existing guidelines for any other forms of manslaughter.

Today's draft guidelines also cover unlawful acts, which are the most commonly prosecuted form of manslaughter, manslaughter by reason of loss of control, and manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility.

Sentencing council member Mr Justice Holroyde said: 'In developing these guidelines, we have been keenly aware of the impact caused by these offences and so the guidelines aim to ensure sentencing that properly reflects both the culpability of the offender and the seriousness of the harm caused.'

The consultation closes on 10 October.