According to a recent report carried out by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions, employers who break health and safety laws are being hit with much tougher penalties.
The report indicates that the changes brought in under the Health & Safety (Offences) Act 2008 has led to a greater number of cases being tried within the lower courts.
Mike Penning, The Minister of State for Health & Safety commented: "By handling greater sentencing powers to Magistrates and Sheriffs it has sent a clear message to unscrupulous employers that if they do not take their responsibilities seriously they will face stiff penalties, which include heavy fines and – in the very worst cases – prison."
He also commented that previously, there was a significant burden on the higher courts for prosecuting all but the most serious cases. This has been removed with the Health & Safety (Offences) Act and it can now be quantified.
Richard Jones, Head of policy and public affairs at IOSH commented: "We welcome the Government's review of the Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008 and the Minister's message that rogue employers who gamble with workers' health and safety will face stiff penalties."
Significant findings of the report include:
- 86 per cent of cases were heard in the lower courts after the Act came into force – compared to 70 per cent in the period leading up to its introduction;
- the average fine imposed by the courts involving breaches of health and safety regulations alone increased by 60 per cent, from £4,577 to £7,310;
- for cases involving breaches of both health and safety regulations and the HSWA 1974, the average increase was 25 per cent from £13,334 to £16,730;
- 346 cases attracted fines of more than £5,000 – prior to the Act, the maximum fine that could be imposed was capped at £5,000.
The principle objective of the Act was to raise the maximum penalties for workplace health and safety offences that could be tried in both the higher and lower courts. The intension was that the four fold increase from £5,000 to £20,000 in the lower courts and a custodial sentence of up to 2 years would provide a greater deterrent to irresponsible employers.