How to Avoid Prosecution for Health & Safety Breaches in the UK

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.

Enforcement Notices

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:

  1. A prohibition notice.
  2. An improvement notice.

Prohibition notice

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. 

Improvement notice

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.

Prohibition and enforcement notices issued by the HSE

In general, the HSE issues more improvement notices than prohibition notices. In the period of 2020/2021, the HSE had issued:

  • 1,821 improvement notices
  • 1,107 immediate prohibition notices

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.

Health and safety breaches


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.

Matters of Public Interest

Incidents brought for prosecution will typically involve one or more of the following matters that affect public interest:

  • Death in the workplace that resulted from a breach of health and safety legislation;
  • An offence that caused or has the potential to cause serious harm, and the offender’s general record or approach to health and safety policies warrants it;
  • There has been a reckless disregard for health and safety in the workplace; 
  • The offender or company has breached legislation repeatedly or persistently has low levels of compliance, which give rise to significant risk;
  • High-risk work has been conducted without an appropriate licence or safety case, or was not in compliance with it; 
  • The standard of managing health and safety in the workplace is far below health and safety law requirements; 
  • An individual or company has failed to comply with an improvement or prohibition notice;
  • An individual or company has provided false information during inspections or investigations with an intent to deceive on matters that can lead to significant risk; 
  • An individual or company has intentionally obstructed inspectors or authorities from conducting their lawful inspection duties. 

Corporate manslaughter or homicide for work-related deaths

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:

  • Unlimited fines
    The penalty size is determined based on the severity of the incident according to the sentencing guideline and the court’s discretion.
  • Remedial orders
    An order for the organisation to remedy any management failure that caused the work-related death.
  • Publicity orders
    An organisation is legally required to publicise that it has been convicted of the offence. The announcement needs to detail the incident, any fines imposed, and the remedial steps taken. 

Prosecutions taken by the HSE and the COPFS

According to HSE’s report, Enforcement statistics in Great Britain, 2021, during the period of 2020/2021:

  • 199 cases were prosecuted by the HSE and COPFS 
  • Prosecuted cases had a 93% conviction rate for at least one offence

Sentencing Outcomes

  • £26.9 million in fines were issued in penalties to those found guilty of health and safety offences (23% decrease from the 2019/20 period).
  • The average fine per case was £145,000 (35% increase from the 2019/20 period).
  • 7 cases received fines of £1 million or more.
  • Fines constitute 80% of penalties enforced. Other types of penalties enforced were suspended sentence (10%), community sentence (8%), and immediate custody (2%).

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.

Resources & Tools to Prevent Legislation Breaches & Prosecution

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:

  • Employees not reporting hazards, near misses, and incidents.
  • Conducting risk assessments in a proper and timely manner according to each risk and work situation. 
  • Ensuring smooth and timely communication of health and safety procedures, especially in dynamic situations where the risks are continuously changing.
  • Managing and following up on preventive and corrective tasks, especially when multiple parties or third-party contractors are involved. 
  • Managing the attendance and boosting the engagement of health and safety training.

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. 

Hazard Reporting 

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.

The 6 Pillars of Reporting Health & Safety Issues in the Workplace. 

Hazard reporting system

Incident and Near Miss Reporting

Reporting incidents and near misses in the workplace benefits employees and employers in five different ways:

  1. Prevents more serious accidents by nipping the safety issue in the bud. 
  2. Improve workplace safety by identifying blind spots in your safety procedures. 
  3. Save time and costs associated with incidents that lead to injury or property damage.
  4. Identifies health and safety breaches that need to be improved or fixed. 
  5. Boosts overall well-being

Here are resources and tools you can use to implement an effective incident and near miss reporting system.

incident reporting

A guide to incident reporting in the workplace
How to report a near miss to improve workplace health and safety

Incident reporting checklist
Incident report template
Protector: Streamline your incident reporting procedure

Risk Assessment

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 Worker Risk Assessment Template

4 risk management strategies for workplace health & safety
Lone working risk assessment: Guideline for all industries
Dynamic risk assessment: How to stay safe in high-risk situations

Lone worker risk assessment template
Workflows: Inspection and task management software

Lone Working Safety Solutions

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

Lone working policy template
Lone working survey
Lone worker alarms

Health & Safety Training

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. 

Optimise workplace safety with an employee-led safety culture

Employee-led safety recipe
Employee-led safety platforms with Protector and Workflows

Protect Your Employees & Organisation

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.

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