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H&S law gets Royal Assent and HVCA warning

Higher penalties and greater sentencing powers against employers who put staff at risk have been introduced in the Health and Safety Offences Act (2008) which gained the royal seal of approval on October 16.
The Act, which comes into force in the UK in January 2009, raises the maximum penalties that can be imposed for most health and safety offences in the lower courts from £5,000 to £20,000 and makes imprisonment an option for more H&S offences in both courts.

DWP Minister Lord McKenzie said: “These changes will ensure that sentences can now be more easily set at a level to deter businesses that do not take their health and safety management responsibilities seriously and further encourage employers and others to comply with the law'.

He added “By extending the £20,000 maximum fine to the lower courts and making imprisonment an option, more cases will be resolved in the lower courts and justice will be faster, less costly and more efficient.”

HVCA’s Health and Safety man Bob Towse said “The level of fines has not been great enough and needed to be higher'. Towse welcomed the move but was keen to stress the HSE’s weakpoints.

He said “The level of resources put into HSE enforcement has been greatly reduced. We’d like to see a greater degree of enforcement and policing by the HSE executive of the construction industry. Members tell us they used to see more routine, unannounced visits to construction sites by HSE officers'.

The Act amends Section 33 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The Health and Safety Offences Act 2008 was introduced as a Private Members Bill and piloted through the House of Commons by the Rt Hon Keith Hill MP and by the Rt Hon Lord Bruce Grocott in the House of Lords.

Towse said 'The government has taken the decision to make sure when someone does something wrong to charge more, which is painful for business. A company can’t insure against a HSE prosecution or get away from the damage to its reputation”.

He added “We get a bit worried that the HSE take the view that their role is to swoop in and slap the wrist of big business after an incident regardless of whose fault it is. “There’s a limit to how much business can do, even in areas such as training. The HSE should take action against the specific operatives on site”.

HSE chair Judith Hackitt said 'The new Act sends out an important message to those who flout the law. However, good employers and good managers have nothing to fear. 'I want to remind businesses that there are no changes to their existing legal duties and that important safeguards are in place to ensure these new powers will be used sensibly and proportionately”.
21 October 2008


By Paul Reeve
21 October 2008 01:01:00
"Whilst not intentional, the timing of the new Act probably couldn t be worse for SMEs as we enter a recession.

Arguably, the broad scope for increasing fines means the new legislation has more practical significance than the Corporate Manslaughter Act. Of course, managing health and safety properly is the answer but with power comes responsibility and if magistrates issue big fines for small transgressions, the reputation of health and safety at work could take a dive."

Paul Reeve, Health, Safety & Environment Manager of the Electrical Contractors' Association.
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