Tougher Penalties ahead for Crooked Employers

January 30, 2014

Changes to the Health and Safety Offences Act were announced earlier this month. These changes will see tougher punishments for employers who are in breach of important health and safety laws. Changes to the approach to certain prosecutions announced on 16th January will give unscrupulous employers a much more difficult time.

Changes to the Health and Safety Offences Act have resulted in more cases tried and resolved in the lower courts. This has resulted in increased fines and a higher number of jail terms handed to those found in breach of the strict health and safety laws to protect employees and the general public in the workplace. Any changes which reprimand individuals who aren’t providing a safe and compliant workplace for their employees and their customers are a positive move in our book.

Ministerial Opinion

The Minister of State for Health and Safety Mike Penning commented that the changes to legislation send out a very ‘clear message to unscrupulous employers that if they do not take their responsibilities seriously they will face stiff penalties, which include heavy fines and – in the very worst cases – prison.’ There is the added benefit of the increased cost and burden of prosecution being removed from the Crown Courts, except in the most serious circumstances.

A Closer Look at the Findings

The report published looking at the changes to the Health and Safety Offences Act found that 86% of cases were tried in the lower courts once the Act had been enforced, an increase of 16% prior to its enactment. It also found that the courts’ average fine due to a breach of health and safety regulations has increased considerably from £4,577 to £7,310. An increase of 25% in fines was also seen in cases which involved breaches of the health and safety regulations as well as the Health and Safety at Work Act.

In total 346 cases were found to attract fines in excess of £5,000 and previous to Act this is where fines had been capped. More punitive powers at lower court level is working when dealing with offences relating to the various legislation in place to protect employees and the general public in places of work.

The Act was introduced mainly to allow for larger fines to be imposed, with the maximum increasing to £20,000 from £5,000. Both Sheriffs and Magistrates have also been given greater power to hand out custodial sentences to offenders. Previously prison sentences were only permissible for a small number of specific cases whereas the act has widened the margins and given the Magistrate or Sheriff more sentencing options.

Health and Safety in the Workplace

Your workplace should be somewhere you can feel safe and secure. The right measures, risk assessments and regulations should be in place to protect you from any risk of injury or danger. However, we regularly see this is not the case. Accidents in the workplace are more common than expect – even in industries not considered particularly dangerous.

In 2012/13 148 workers were killed in the workplace, a figure which is far too high and a further 78,000 other injuries to employees were reported under RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences). In many of these instances time off work would have been essential and therefore loss of earnings recorded. Where the accident is not the fault of the injured party, a compensation claim could and should be sought.

Lamb & Co personal injury solicitors regularly work with clients who have experienced an accident at work and we appreciate the trauma involved. We work with our clients on an individual basis to fight for what they deserve and will look in depth at the health and safety procedures and records in place at your work place. We are 100% committed to ensuring you get the maximum compensation for your injury.