The Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008, which alters the penalty framework set out in Section 33 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, has received Royal Assent. The Act introduces harsher penalties for businesses that commit certain health and safety offences.
The Act increases the maximum penalty that can be imposed in the lower courts for breaching health and safety regulations from £5,000 to £20,000 and the range of offences for which an individual can be imprisoned has also been broadened.
The changes are intended to deter businesses that do not take their health and safety management responsibilities seriously and further encourage employers and others to comply with the law. Furthermore, by extending the £20,000 maximum fine to the lower courts and making imprisonment an option, more cases are likely to be resolved in the lower courts and justice will be faster, less costly and more efficient.
There are strict guidelines which must be observed by the regulators in their approach to the prosecution of health and safety offences. The Health and Safety Executive’s Enforcement Policy Statement provides that prosecutions should be in the public interest and be undertaken where one or more of a list of circumstances apply. These include:
- where death was as a result of a breach of the legislation;
- where there has been reckless disregard of health and safety requirements;
- where there have been repeated breaches which give rise to significant risk, or persistent and significant poor compliance; or
- where false information has been supplied wilfully, or there has been intent to deceive in relation to a matter which gives rise to significant risk.
Any prosecution of an individual is subject to the same strict considerations set out above and is only taken if warranted, and not instead of taking action against their employer.