Why safety last could lead to disaster | 18 February 09
COMPANIES looking to cut costs in the current downturn could be heading for disaster if they try to lower spending on health and safety.
That is the warning from leading North law firm Ward Hadaway which says that trying to save money by cutting corners when it comes to compliance could land directors with much more than just a fine.
James Thompson, partner in the health and safety team at the firm, says local authorities and the Health and Safety Executive remain very strict on ensuring companies are abiding by the law and have not cut back on inspections and prosecutions.
A custodial sentence for serious health and safety breaches has also become a very real possibility with the passing of the Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008 last month, which also quadrupled the maximum fine that magistrates can impose for offences.
James said: “Many businesses are feeling the pinch at the moment and so very naturally are looking to make savings where they can.
“In the past, health and safety compliance has been seen as a bit of a luxury by some organisations and an add-on when things are going well, but in times of hardship there is a tendency to say ‘we don’t really need that, let’s trim back on it’.
“However, the HSE and local authorities who enforce health and safety legislation are not cutting back on their resources and will still maintain the same level of inspection so regulation is going to remain the same. In some cases the regime may be more stringent with new legislation like the Health and Safety (Offences) Act and the Corporate Manslaughter Act.
“What’s more, it is accepted health and safety sentencing practice to hand out larger fines or potentially prison sentences if companies are shown to have put profit before safety.”
Complying with health and safety procedures does not just apply in sectors such as manufacturing and engineering – companies in all sectors can easily fall foul of the law.
James Thompson explained: “Most organisations need to have a ‘competent person’ to provide advice on health and safety matters, which could be an in-house health and safety manager or a consultant.
“If you do away with that function or do not get a consultant to come in, then you risk not having the expert advice to enable you to be compliant.
“You also have to give employees the right tools to do their jobs so if a company tries to cut costs by providing sub-standard or cheaper equipment for their staff to use, they are potentially breaching health and safety regulations if it is not fit for purpose.
“With redundancies happening at many companies, and potentially more employees are likely to be working alone due to reduced staffing. If they happen to have an accident on their own and have to wait hours to be discovered and treated, then a company could be seen as having compromised staff safety by cutting costs or not assessing the risk of their new working arrangements.
“Getting the right health and safety advice and putting the correct measures in place is crucial if businesses don’t want to fall foul of the law. Investing resources now could save companies an awful lot in the future.”
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