Health and safety legislation in the UK has been designed to protect the safety of all employees, contract workers, and volunteers in the workplace. Every UK employer has the responsibility to comply with these health and safety laws and lone working legislation.
Non-compliance with health and safety policies can lead to severe penalties for individuals and companies. For example, an individual proven to have breached health and safety policies could lose their work position, be dismissed from their company, or be fined heavily.
Whereas organisations that fail to enforce health and safety policies can be issued warnings or be prosecuted in court. If convicted, companies risk being fined, suspended, or issued a community order or immediate custody.
In this article, we will explore the consequences of non-compliance upon individuals and companies as a whole. We will also cover 2020/2021 enforcement statistics of health and safety legislation in Great Britain and provide you with resources and tools to avoid breaches and penalties.
An investigating authority, such as the HSE, may issue two types of enforcement notices if a company has breached health and safety laws or has a high-risk working environment or activity:
Suppose an inspector believes that a particular work activity or process has a high risk for incidents or personal injury. In that case, they can issue a prohibition notice to stop the work activity or process.
There doesn’t have to be a breach of the law for a prohibition notice to be issued. It can be issued if the inspecting officer believes the risk is too high. Once issued, the notice can take effect immediately or be deferred on a case by case basis.
Unlike prohibition notices, improvement notices allow employers to continue with a particular work activity or process on the condition that employers first take specific actions to remove or mitigate the risks.
An improvement notice is usually issued when non-compliance or a breach of law is identified during an inspection. The improvement notice should detail what needs to be remedied and by when.
Employers are then obliged to implement the orders of the improvement notice before the stated deadline.
In general, the HSE issues more improvement notices than prohibition notices. In the period of 2020/2021, the HSE had issued:
Overall, the number of prohibition and improvement notices issued has declined from 2019-2021.
While this downward trend may look promising, the HSE has also stated that these trends may not provide a completely accurate picture due to how the COVID-19 pandemic affected inspections and data collections.
Prosecution is an integral part of enforcing health and safety legislation. It ensures that individuals or companies are held liable for their actions. Offenders can be brought to court in England or Wales or be recommended to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) for prosecution if the offence was committed in Scotland.
Prosecution is typically reserved for incidents with serious impact. Authorities can only proceed with prosecution if they have gathered sufficient evidence with a realistic prospect of conviction. Cases presented for prosecution are also typically in the public’s best interests.
In England and Wales, the HSE will decide, to their discretion, whether an incident should be prosecuted. Their decision is based on the evidence collected and the relevant public interest factors detailed in the Code for Crown Prosecutors.
In Scotland, COPFS is the deciding authority. The HSE may recommend a case for prosecution to the COPFS, but the final decision falls upon COPFS, who can independently investigate the circumstances and institute proceedings.
Incidents brought for prosecution will typically involve one or more of the following matters that affect public interest:
If investigators in England or Wales find a breach in health and safety laws that led to a work-related death, individuals or companies may face charges of manslaughter or corporate manslaughter. In Scotland, these charges would be culpable homicide or corporate homicide.
These charges fall under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 legislation. The introduction of this legislation has been a landmark in law that can hold companies and organisations accountable for serious health and safety breaches or neglecting employee safety.
Prosecution usually involves corporate liability and doesn’t apply to directors or senior positions in the company or organisation. Prosecution against individuals will only apply if there is sufficient evidence that the person was directly responsible for non-compliance or gross negligence of health and safety laws.
If convicted, penalties can include:
According to HSE’s report, Enforcement statistics in Great Britain, 2021, during the period of 2020/2021:
In 2020/2021, breaches in the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) 1998 regulation resulted in the highest custodial sentencing, with 57% of convictions for breaching this regulation resulting in an immediate or suspended custodial sentence.
Employers and managers should take heed of this high rate of conviction for gas safety. Thus, we recommend taking extra vigilance to monitor this area and ensure full compliance.
The obvious solution to avoid legislation breaches and prosecution is to ensure compliance with health and safety laws within an organisation. Like many other things, however, this is easier said than done.
Achieving full compliance can be very challenging. Some of the challenges workplace safety professionals face include:
The bigger the organisation, the more complex it becomes to manage these challenges.
However, combining best practices and procedures with the latest technologies allows you to manage health and safety compliance in your organisation like clockwork.
Here are some key resources and solutions to help you overcome the common challenges of health and safety compliance, no matter how big or small your organisation is.
Not reporting potential hazards is a bit like sweeping issues under the carpet. This can cause more problems down the road.
Thus, every organisation needs to have a straightforward hazard reporting procedure. In addition, organisations should train employees and managers so they know what they should do when they see something that could be dangerous.
Here are resources and tools you can use to implement an effective hazard reporting system.
Reporting incidents and near misses in the workplace benefits employees and employers in five different ways:
Here are resources and tools you can use to implement an effective incident and near miss reporting system.
A risk assessment helps your organisation improve, create new policies, or fine-tune existing practices relating to health and safety.
It achieves this by identifying the hazards and risks related to a workplace environment or procedure and following up with the appropriate risk management strategy to avoid, manage, or mitigate the risks.
Check out these resources and tools that give you everything you need to know on conducting effective risk assessments for the general workplace, high-risk situations, and lone workers.
Lone workers are anyone who works without a co-worker or team member present within visible or hearing range. Since they work alone, they face higher and unique risks. Every employer is responsible for keeping their lone workers safe.
Be sure to check out these important resources and tools to provide your lone workers with the protection they need.
The complete guide to lone working in the UK
Why you need a solution for your “low risk” lone workers
Managing lone worker safety in your organisation
Writing a lone worker policy: Your step-by-step guide
Once you have implemented these procedures and tools, you need to ensure your employees comply with the health and safety processes in place. There are two keys to achieving this: training and workplace safety culture.
Check out these resources on how to increase health and safety training relevance and engagement and how to create a first-class workplace safety culture.
Protect your employees and your organisation from harm, injury, or liability by implementing industry best practices and utilising tools that make it easier for you to streamline health and safety processes.
For more information or for a demo of any of the tools mentioned in this article, contact us here.