Companies that breach health and safety legislation now face much stiffer fines following a major change in health and safety law.
With the Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008 coming into force today (16 January, 2009), the maximum fine that Magistrates Courts can impose has risen four-fold from £5,000 to £20,000. The Crown Courts ability to impose unlimited fines for health and safety breaches remains unchanged.
Dickinson Dees solicitor Anna Hart told MRW: The economic considerations in terms of possible penalties that businesses or individuals can face are now much more significant.
Company employees, including directors and senior managers, also face greater risk of imprisonment. Magistrates Courts can now issue sentences of up to 12 months imprisonment for most health and safety offences. Certain offences which were only triable in Magistrates Courts can now be heard in either the Magistrates Court or the Crown Courts, where larger sentences can be imposed.
Hart said: Its important to note this Act brings in no new requirements or responsibilities on businesses. So those businesses that are well managed and well looked after really have nothing particularly to worry about. If they are not committing an offence they are not going to be affected by the changes.
But she advised: Have a good, robust health and safety policy in place that is acted on day in, day out. Its very much about health and safety on the ground, rather than a file on the shelf and making sure your policy is current and informed to employees.
The new legislation follows a pledge by members of the Waste Industry Safety and Health (WISH) forum to reduce the number of industry accidents by 10% in the next five years and a £75,000 fine issued to a waste management company for the avoidable death of an employee.