New and Tougher Penalties for HSE Breaches
All employers are aware that they have a number of responsibilities regarding their workforce but many still flout the laws regarding health and safety. A recent report by the Department for Work and Pensions shows that the courts are beginning to take a much firmer line with anyone who does not follow the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) legislation to the letter. This is good news for all employees and will go a long way towards creating a safer working environment for everyone.
Greater sentencing powers send a clear message
The Minister of State for Health and Safety, Mike Penning, is confident that by handing stronger powers to Magistrates and Sheriffs the message will be clear – cases will be heard more quickly and efficiently than when everything had to go through the Crown Court and with powers to hand down large fines or even prison sentences now in the hands of the lower courts, infringements will not be tolerated and will be severely punished. Many employers had relied on the fact that prosecuting them would be costly and time consuming and would be therefore unlikely – this being no longer the case, many will take steps to improve safety at work for employees and the public and those who persistently offend despite warnings will now pay a much higher price, even to the lengths of a prison sentence.
Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008
The changes are encapsulated in the Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008 which was created because so many employers were in obvious breach of legislation and were causing danger to their employees and often to the general public as well. The Department of Work and Pensions report was wide ranging, but its main findings were:-
- Since the Act came into force, 86% of cases are now heard in the lower courts. This is a significant increase on the number heard there before the Act, which was 70%.
- Breaches of Health and Safety regulations are now punished by fines which are on average 60% higher than those imposed before the Act – this equates to fines of £7310, up from £4577.
- In cases where there was a breach of H&S regulations and also the Health and Safety at Work Act also saw an increase in the average fine, this time 25% from £13,334 to £16,730.
- Of all the cases heard in the lower courts, 346 resulted in fines of over £5,000. This is an important finding, as previous to the Act of 2008, the maximum fine was £5,000, proving that this sum was inadequate in many cases.
- The maximum fine that can be imposed in lower courts has been increased to £20,000, considered to be a real deterrent to anyone who flouts the law.
- Prison terms can now be handed down by the lower courts – cases where prison sentences would be a possible outcome previously were only heard in the Crown Court.
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The changes further highlight just how important it is to invest in the right health and safety courses for your workers, to ensure you are found in breach of any laws moving forward.