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With companies’ work practices coming under ever-increasing scrutiny, it has never been more important to ensure that you are on top of any developments in health and safety law.
For those businesses breaking health and safety law, purposefully or through ignorance, the penalties can be severe. If it is proven that someone is injured as a direct result of an accident at work, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) may begin criminal proceedings.
If your business is under investigation for breaching health and safety law, it is imperative that you act quickly and seek advice from an expert who has experience in health and safety law and has extensive working knowledge in this field.
As well as guiding and supporting you through the process, your health and safety law solicitor can ensure that the right decisions are made at every point.
The Health and Safety Work Act 1974 consists of laws concerning the welfare, health and safety of employees in their place of work. This is the main piece of legislation concerning health and safety.
The HSE (Health and Safety Executive) is an independent regulator which governs health and safety law. They aim to prevent workplace-related injury, illness and death. The HSE works in partnership with other organisations, including trade unions, professional bodies and employers.
Over the last few years, there have been a number of different reviews of health and safety. A large part of the HSE’s job is to implement the recommendations for legislative reform.
Health and safety law is a constantly evolving and changing area of law, which is why businesses must ensure that they are complying with the latest reforms.
The vast majority of health and safety law focuses on evaluating the level of risk employees are subject to during their hours of work.
The HSE can inspect workplaces to ensure that the risks that exist there are being properly managed.
Those sectors with the most serious risks are targeted by the HSE for inspection, to ensure that they are following health and safety law.
Inspections also take place in organisations where the HSE believe that health and safety is a “significant concern”, such as if an injury was reported or if someone raises a concern about health and safety in the workplace.
The HSE will not investigate everything that is reported to them. They concentrate on the most serious work-related illnesses or injury.
THSE can visit a workplace at any ‘reasonable time’ and do not have to provide notice of their intention to visit.
HSE’s team will want to speak to any relevant people at your organisation, such as supervisors and workers.
They will also observe workers doing their workplace activities and may want to inspect any machinery that you use.
The inspectors may also want to take photographs.
The HSE may request to see any relevant paperwork, as well as verifying whether the risk controls in place are indeed effective.
Depending on the reason for the investigation, a single inspector or a whole team of inspectors could turn up at your organisation. The HSE often works with other agencies, such as the police, if the circumstances demand it.
The purpose of an inspection is to identify if there have been any breaches of health and safety law.
The HSE’s main purpose is to prevent workplace illnesses, injuries or deaths. However, one of the HSE’s roles is to enforce health and safety law.
If there has been a breach of health and safety law, the HSE will then consider what appropriate enforcement could look like.
The HSE have various choices of action open to them when it comes to enforcing health and safety law.
These range from simply providing advice to the organisation which has breached health and safety law, all the way to prosecution.
The HSE may also withdraw approvals or vary licences.
Depending on what enforcement action the HSE has decided to take, there may be a right to challenge or appeal the decision.
Workplace health and safety falls under both civil and criminal law.
If you breach health and safety law, the HSE may take action against you under criminal law.
The person who has become ill or injured may decide to make a claim for compensation from you under civil law.
Health and safety law is all about managing and controlling workplace risk.
Crucially, no-one has to actually be harmed for an offence to be committed in health and safety law. Only a risk of harm has to exist.
If someone is injured due to an accident at work, the HSE may decide to begin criminal proceedings.
If you don’t comply with a regulation relevant to your organisation, you may be committing a criminal offence. As a result, you could be prosecuted for breaking health and safety law.
Depending on the circumstances, you may simply receive advice (verbally or in a letter) from the HSE.
You may be issued with an improvement notice, which sets out what changes you have to make to ensure that you are complying with health and safety law, together with deadlines.
Equally, you may be issued with a prohibition notice, which demands that you stop a work activity immediately, if the HSE finds that there is a risk of serious injury.
If you fail to comply with these notices, the HSE could decide to prosecute you.
Furthermore, if you have broken health and safety law, you may need to pay money – known as a fee for intervention (FFI) – for the time it takes for the HSE to help you to put things right.
Health and safety law is in place to prevent workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities. Failure to follow health and safety law could result in you being prosecuted.
Make sure you fully understand the health and safety law relevant to your sector, as well as the responsibilities that you have to keep your workers, and anyone who may be affected by your work, safe.
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