Be warned for upsurge in health and safety prosecutions | 06 August 09
COMPANIES are being warned to watch out for a potential upsurge in prosecutions made by the health and safety watchdog.
Law firm Ward Hadaway says that recent criticism of the Health and Safety Executive by an influential committee of MPs may put more pressure on the agency to step up its activities.
The HSE’s record on prosecutions was criticised in a report on workplace health and safety by the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee.
In the report, the committee said that the number of offences prosecuted by the HSE had fallen by 40% between 2004 and 2008.
The committee went on to say: “We do not accept that the fall in prosecutions by HSE is insignificant.
“The importance of prosecution, both as a response to those who breach health and safety law and as a deterrent to those who might, cannot be underestimated.
“We call on HSE to explain why there has been such a significant drop in the prosecutions it has taken since 2003/04 and how it will reverse this trend.”
James Thompson, partner in the health and safety team at Ward Hadaway, said the Parliamentary rebuke is likely to put more pressure on the Health and Safety Executive to increase its prosecution rates.
James said: “Such criticism in a written report from a House of Commons committee is bound to make the HSE look again at its prosecution rates and whether it should be taking more cases to court.
“The Executive has been taking steps recently to try and emphasise a partnership approach with businesses when it comes to health and safety matters, but this rebuke may make them think again.
“Added to the increased penalties for health and safety offences introduced at the start of this year, this could spell trouble for businesses which are not fully up to date with the latest legislation and protocols in the area.”
In January, the introduction of the Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008 meant individuals found guilty of a wide range of health and safety related offences can be handed a jail term of up to 12 months by magistrates or up to two years by the Crown Court in addition to the existing sentencing powers available to the courts.
The maximum fine which magistrates can impose on companies for breaching health and safety laws also quadrupled from £5,000 to £20,000.
James Thompson said: “When you add up all these factors, it is clear that it is more important than ever for companies to make sure their health and safety procedures are up to scratch since mistakes are more likely to be punished and the sanctions much stiffer than before.”
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