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Charles Abraham, Head of Disputes , highlights the potential implications for a business thata conviction for a breach of health and safety legislation can have on its operations.
What impact can a prosecution for a safety-related breach have on a business?
A conviction for a safety-related breach can have an immense impact on a business and the individuals within it. It is a criminal offence to breach the obligations contained within health and safety legislation. If a safety breach within a workplace causes a death, then those responsible may also face prosecution for gross negligence manslaughter (in the case of individuals) or corporate manslaughter (where the defendant is a business).
Fines for the most serious safety breaches are now routinely in the hundreds of thousands of pounds. Coupled with the need to pay not only the business' own legal costs but also the prosecutions', non-compliance with health and safety law is a costly exercise.
Increasingly, companies look carefully at the safety record of potential business partners and requests for details of any safety convictions have become standard on tender questionnaires. The damage caused to a business' reputation by a criminal conviction could last longer than the initial financial outlay.
Prosecution of individuals
When investigating safety breaches, inspectors routinely consider the role of individuals in workplace accidents. Although the level of fines imposed against individuals convicted may not be as large as a fine imposed on a business, the potential impact on the individual can be severe.
Individuals can be imprisoned for breaches of health and safety law, with sentences of up to six months in the Magistrates' Courts and up to two years in the Crown Courts. Even individuals that avoid a custodial sentence will have to live with the stigma of a criminal conviction, which could restrict their ability to travel abroad or work in certain industry sectors.
Who can be prosecuted for safety offences?
There are a number of groups that can face prosecution for breaching health and safety requirements, these include:
What factors will the HSE consider when deciding whether to prosecute safety breaches?
The HSE has published a number of documents that set out how it will investigate and prosecute the health and safety breaches for which it is responsible. The documents highlight the factors that the HSE considers will favour a prosecution, for example, where:
How can a business influence the decision to prosecute?
In some less serious cases (for example, where it is a purely technical offence), it may be possible to influence the enforcing authority's decision to prosecute. This could be achieved in a number of ways, for example:
Insurance and criminal liability
This article just provides an overview of the law in this area. You should talk to our Disputes Team for a complete understanding of how it may affect your particular circumstances.
If you have any queries in relation to this post, please contact our Head of Disputes, Charles Abraham on 0113 201 0405.
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