Health and Safety at Work
The Health and Safety Act 1974 has been in force for 40 years. The purpose of the Act is to provide a regulatory framework for workplace health and safety in Great Britain.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) administer the Act and the emphasis is on preventing death, injury and ill-health in workplaces but also targeting employers that deliberately flout the law.
What does this mean for employers?
Therefore there is an onus upon all employers to ensure compliance and failure to do so may result in enforcement action with the ultimate consequence of prosecution by way of charging with offences and proceedings. Commencing in the Magistrates Court and depending on the seriousness of the non-compliance, the penalties range from financial, community orders with requirements such as unpaid work (community service), curfew with a tag and imprisonment. The same sentences are available in the Crown Court but with higher fines and longer terms of imprisonment.
The HSE in their literature state they believe the penalties available to them are too low and this includes fines and custody so they have a very rigorous approach on prosecution.
Our view is legal assistance is required at the very outset of a HSE investigation and it may be they are persuaded not to prosecute and encouraged (possibly persuaded) to see that there has been full compliance by analysing the legislation. However the HSE may decide there is a case to answer which may then result in negotiation to avoid court proceedings. Enforcement can include serving notices on duty holders, withdrawing approvals, varying licences, conditions or exemptions, issuing simple cautions and providing information face-to-face or in writing.
The more major the incident the more significant the response from the HSE and crucially the HSE also consider the potential to cause serious injuries, ill–health-which may be immediate or delayed-and loss of life.
Contractors and self-employed people who may be working for you are also your responsibility as an employer.
This is complicated legislation and its intricate workings require expert advice and representation. Our belief is that although the HSE may appear to be helpful their interests are not aligned with the employer or organisation under investigation.
We offer independent legal advice in this specialist area. To discuss any health and safety issue contact Rahil Khan at our office on 01204 377600. Let us help.