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Knowledge Share: Understanding Health and Safety Prosecutions

Jun 13, 2023

What is a health and safety prosecution?

By law, businesses, organisations and workers must adhere to the requirements of health and safety legislation. Failure to comply with the law can result in a fine or imprisonment.  There are many health and safety regulations in place in the UK which have come into being under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. Failure to abide by the law can and does result in prosecution. A criminal prosecution for a health and safety breach can have far-reaching consequences. A breach of the provisions of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, and/or a breach of Regulations, is a criminal offence punishable by a fine or imprisonment, or both. It involves being taken to court, facing reputational damage and potentially the loss or closure of a business or organisation. As a result, it is vital to understand the health and safety regulations that impact on your organisation and to take measures to be compliant. 

What are the consequences of health and safety prosecutions?

The risk of health and safety prosecutions can be significant. Prosecutions may be brought if an offence is committed or if an offence is attributable to any neglect on the part of, any director, manager, or person representing the ‘body corporate’.  Health and safety prosecutions occur due to a significant incident taking place, such as a work-related accident or death, or due to a serious near miss incident, or failure to adhere to health and safety regulations, resulting in placing persons at risk due to work activities. This can result from exposure to chemicals, dust, noise, asbestos, or many other potential workplace hazards. There are many cases where people have gone to prison for health and safety offences and fines are regularly issued by the courts.

Due to the risk to life, as well as the potential consequences from prosecution, It is important to take preventative actions. These include regularly reviewing health and safety policies and procedures, ensuring risk assessments and method statements are in place, and adequately reflect the risks involved in a business or organisation. It is also very important to provide adequate training for staff and ensuring proactive, effective management of health and safety is taking place.

Are there examples of health and safety prosecutions?

Yes, there are lots of examples of health and safety prosecutions. For instance, in 2021, there were some huge fines for the likes of Vue Entertainment, Drayton Manor, British Airways and NHS Trust, a £4m fine for National Grid and a £6.5m fine following the death of an 11-year-old boy at a freight terminal. Last year,2022, saw huge health and safety fines for the likes of Sainsbury’s, Carlsberg, Dairy Crest and Network Rail. There were 5 prosecutions during 2021/22 resulting in fines of over £1 million, and 52 HSE prosecutions resulting in custodial or community service/rehabilitation orders. As you can see, the HSE do prosecute companies and the fines are significant. It is important to be aware of the seriousness and importance of complying with legal duties relating to safety.

What is the best way to be health and safety compliant?

There are several ways to achieve compliance with health and safety regulations. One of the first areas you should review is your health and safety management system, policy, and risk management processes such as safe systems of work and training. Make sure you cover all relevant risks in your organisation and provide suitable mitigation measures.

Here are some tips for improving health and safety compliance:

  • Identify hazards and assess risks
  • Implement control measures
  • Communicate and train staff
  • Monitor and review your safety systems regularly
  • Seek professional, competent health and safety advice

How can JCH Safety Help?

JCH Safety are Chartered Health and Safety Practitioners. We specialise in helping small to medium organisations with health and safety compliance and with fire safety solutions. We can assist with establishing health and safety management systems, documentation, safe systems of work and risk assessments. We can also assist with carrying out health and safety audits and fire risk assessments. As competent practitioners, we can help to test your health and safety systems to identify weaknesses with your safety systems and to help provide solutions to such issues.

Get in touch to find out more.