The Enforcers

In 2015/16 HSE and COPFS prosecutions led to fines totaling £38.3 million compared to the £18.1 million from the previous year.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), and in Scotland, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), are responsible for enforcing health and safety legislation. Any accidents, injuries or deaths of workers investigated by the HSE, and COPFS, (and where appropriate the police), and found to be resultant of breaches in either The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, or The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, may lead to significant fines being placed on an organisation. On top of this, new health and safety guidelines state that custodial sentences will no longer only be reserved for the most serious cases.

In 2015/16 HSE and COPFS prosecutions led to fines totalling £38.3 million compared to the £18.1 million from the previous year. A great deal of this increase can be attributed to 14 fines that were higher than the maximum fine imposed in 2014/15; including six prosecutions resulting in fines of over £1 million.

New definitive guidelines for corporate health and safety offences came into effect at the beginning of 2016 and under these new guidelines, cases will be judged based on risk: the chances of potential harm, the potential severity of said harm, and the number of people exposed. It’s thought that these guidelines will have a bigger impact on compliance with health and safety law than any single piece of regulation in the past 20 years; in its first six months, the guidelines resulted in as many penalties of £1 million or more than there were in the previous twenty years.

These new stricter guidelines and larger fines are having an economic impact and, as a result, companies are waking up to the scale of the financial risk they face by setting aside large sums of money for potential liabilities. It was recently announced that major construction contractor Balfour Beatty has set aside up to £25m for health and safety fines. While this is wise and may become common practice, it’s more important than ever for companies to provide adequate health and safety training and, certainly in the case of lone workers, to provide suitable equipment that ensures a safer working environment.

It’s an employer's duty to protect the health and safety of their employees and do whatever is reasonably achievable to accomplish this. As an employer you have a duty of care to your employees; you must provide information about risk and deliver appropriate training on how to deal with any potentially dangerous situations. Not doing this leaves you in serious danger of prosecution.

The number of cases prosecuted by HSE and COPFS has shown an upward trend in recent years. In 2015/16, HSE and COPFS prosecuted 696 cases with at least one conviction secured in 660 of these cases, a conviction rate of 95%. This means if you don’t meet your duty of care to your employees and you do get prosecuted, then there’s a good chance you’ll be convicted.

Meeting your duty of care

Employers have a duty of care to their employees, this means that they should take all necessary steps to ensure staff health, safety and wellbeing. It is a legal requirement to meet relevant health & safety and employment laws but they also have a moral and ethical duty to ensure all staff members are sufficiently protected from physical or psychological injury.

Employer duty of care requirements

  • Ensuring a safe work environment
  • Adequate training
  • Protecting staff from bullying or harassment, either from colleagues or third parties
  • Protecting staff from discrimination
  • Ensuring that staff do not work excessive hours
  • Consulting employees on issues that concern them

By failing to do everything possible to keep employees from harm, an employer can be deemed to have breached their duty of care; and if an incident was to occur there’s a good chance you’ll be prosecuted.

There are plenty of ways companies can improve staff safety but corporate culture, and how duty of care is approached are fundamental. Providing workers with the necessary tools and skills to deal with difficult situations, is key to staff safety.

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