A government report published last week has found that employers are facing tougher penalties when they breach serious health and safety laws, following changes introduced five years ago.

The report found that as a result of changes introduced under the Health and Safety Offences Act 2008, more cases are being tried in the lower courts and higher fines are being handed out to offenders. In addition, more jail terms have been imposed on unscrupulous employers who ignore the health and welfare of their workers and the public.

The report also found that:

  • the average fine imposed by the courts involving breaches of health and safety regulations increased by 60 per cent - from £4,577 to £7,310;
  • for cases involving breaches of health and safety regulations and the Health and Safety at Work Act the average increase was 25 per cent - from £13,334 to £16,730;
  • almost 350 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 purpose of the Act was to increase the maximum penalties for workplace health and safety offences that could be heard in both the lower and higher courts, in the belief that if the penalties were increased it would provide a greater deterrent to would-be offenders. The maximum fine that could be imposed by the lower courts increased four-fold from £5,000 to £20,000.

Magistrates and sheriffs were also given greater powers to send an offender to prison. In the past custodial sentences were reserved for specific cases, but now employers can be sent to prison for the majority of offences.

And certain offences that in the past could only be tried in the lower courts, such as the failure to comply with an improvement order, were made triable in either court, meaning that the offender could face a much tougher sentence if their case was referred to the Crown Court.

The report analysed data between April 1 2006 and January 15 2009; and between January 16 2009 and March 31 2013.

Emma Game at Thompsons said: “The report is a welcome signal to unscrupulous employers that they must comply with their obligations to protect the health and safety of its employees.”

To read the report, go here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/271436/h_s-post-legislative-scrutiny-memo-january-2014.pdf