Employers face tougher penalties from health and safety failings than they did five years ago, according to a recent report by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The report assessed the first five years of the Health and Safety Offences Act (HSOA), which was passed in 2008 to increase the maximum penalties for workplace health and safety breaches that could be heard in both the lower and higher courts. MPs believed that if the penalties for defying health and safety regulations were intensified, offenders would think twice before shirking their responsibilities as employers.
Key findings of the report include the following:
• A greater proportion of cases (86 per cent) were heard in the lower courts after the HSOA came into effect, compared to 70 per cent in the period before 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.
• The average fine increase for cases involving breaches of both health and safety regulations and the Health and Safety at Work Act was 25 per cent, from £13,334 to £16,730.
• Almost 350 lower court cases attracted fines of more than £5,000—prior to the HSOA the lower court maximum fine was capped at £5,000. The previous lower court maximum increased four-fold to a current limit of £20,000.
The HSOA also granted magistrates and sheriffs greater authority to send offenders to prison. Prior to the HSOA, prison sentences were reserved only for specific cases, but now employers can be sent to prison for a majority of workplace health and safety failings.
The act’s success over the last five years sends a clear message to unscrupulous employers that neglect necessary, life-saving health and safety regulations in the workplace—shape up or suffer the (now much harsher) consequences.
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