The latest HSE statistics reveal an increase in the number of prosecutions, particularly for the most serious offences.
The recently released Health and Safety Statistics for 2014/15 show an increase in the number of cases prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). In 2014/15, the HSE prosecuted 650 cases, an increase of 7% from the previous year. Of these 650 cases, 93% were convicted of at least one offence. Those found guilty of health and safety offences received fines totalling £16.5 million, giving an average penalty on conviction of £27,177 per case.
Perhaps more striking is the statistic that the number of criminal prosecutions in the most serious of cases brought by the HSE has more than doubled from 24 in 2012/13 to 52 in 2014/15 according to data obtained by Cerico. This rise in HSE prosecutions will be of particular concern to businesses, given the impending implementation of the newly published Sentencing Guidelines (which will be in force from 1 February 2016) which contain much tougher penalties and sentences for businesses convicted for health and safety offences
The HSE’s increasing use of Publicity Orders, which according to statistics has doubled in the last year, is another concerning feature for businesses Publicity Orders require businesses to publicise details of their conviction, risking serious damage to their reputation. The HSE, however, are intent on sending out clear messages to organisations of the implications and penalties for breaches of health and safety.
All this comes in a year in which the number of fatal injuries increased to 142 from 133 in the previous year. There had been a steady decline in the number of fatalities over the past ten years but in recent years this decline has flat-lined. It remains to be seen whether the new sentencing guidelines, with the HSE’s commitment to prosecute, will bring about any change in the way businesses go about health and safety compliance, and whether this will result in any significant reduction in the number of workplace fatalities.
HSE and the Government
These statistics will also be of interest to the Government who have worked in conjunction with the HSE in recent years to strike a balance between reducing the regulatory burden on businesses, whilst ensuring that health and safety compliance in the workplace is still a primary concern. The so-called ‘Red Tape Challenge’ initiated in 2011 scrapped or improved 84% of health and safety regulation and it will be interesting to see, in light of the HSE statistics, what tack the Government will take as it seeks to deliver further savings in its ‘Cutting Red Tape’ programme through the continued overhaul of regulations.
Resources and FFI
The rise in prosecutions also raises questions regarding the finite resources of the HSE and the introduction of Fee for Intervention (FFI). Increased prosecutions will inevitably put a greater strain on the arguably already overstretched resources of the HSE. It is evident from the data provided that the HSE’s focus will increasingly be on prosecutions of the most serious offences as they look to maximise their resources. The introduction of FFI in October 2012 seems to have done little to reduce the amount of prosecutions and indeed to have actually increased it, and it could even be said to incentivise further investigation of dutyholders. One of FFI’s key objectives was to ‘provide an incentive for businesses to comply with health and safety legislation’ as a business would be required to pay HSE’s fees if a HSE inspector discovered material breaches during the course of an inspection or investigative work.
However, research last year found that approximately half of the respondents who were surveyed and who had received a visit under FFI, reported that it had not influenced how they managed health and safety. In any event, the statistics show that the number of FFI invoices issued has doubled from late 2012 to mid-2015 but seemingly with no consequent reduction in prosecution numbers.
This increase in the number of prosecutions shows that the HSE will not shy away from prosecuting health and safety offences, particularly those it deems most serious. In light of the introduction of the new sentencing guidelines in which businesses will face much financial greater penalties, this is a time when businesses and individuals need to ensure that compliance with health and safety regulations and legislation is an absolute priority.
Author: Amanda LeaThis information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.