Health and safety laws affect businesses both big and small: from sole traders to publicly listed blue chip companies, as well as those who manage and direct them.
But health and safety legislation is not always straightforward to for the non-specialist to understand. There are a complex web of measures for law enforcement and regulators to use with a range of different processes and sanctions.
At the most serious end of the spectrum, in the event of a death in the workplace, there are the crimes of corporate and gross negligence manslaughter. Then there is the Health and Safety at Work Act which requires firms and individuals to provide a safe system of work for employees and third parties with criminal sanctions for infringement. Finally, there are sector specific regulations which apply detailed requirements in particular industries.
Over the last few years, health and safety compliance has become a high priority for regulators. The penalties for breach have increased significantly both for firms, which are liable to much greater fines, and also for individuals who can face directors’ disqualification and imprisonment.
It is likely that over the coming years this scrutiny will become more intense and health and safety enforcement will be an even more critical issue for management to deal with.
Health and safety investigations often start with a workplace accident of sufficient severity that it requires the attendance of the emergency services. An investigation may also start with an incident report made through the RIDDOR scheme, or through information and intelligence obtained by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or a local authority.
In the case of a serious incident, the police and the HSE will attend immediately to gather evidence. Individuals may be questioned on the spot. The HSE has powers to require information to be provided, sometimes at very short notice and firms need immediate help and legal and strategic advice.
Often it is necessary for the investigating agency to carry out interviews under caution. In this situation it critical for the firm to consider carefully how to deal with such a request. Among the issues worth considering are who should represent the company at interview and what, if anything, they should say.
The HSE can issue improvement notices requiring changes in work practices and prohibition notices stopping certain activities and whole sites until investigators are satisfied about the standards in place.
Prosecutions can occur without notice particularly for situations deemed especially dangerous. However, with the right approach and good advice on how the process works, it is possible for firms and individuals to avoid unnecessary criminal charges. There are a number of mechanisms by which an individual or organisation can engage with the HSE and find solutions which do not involve appearances before the criminal courts.
Hickman & Rose specialise in health and safety law, especially in situations when urgent advice is required in relation to an unfolding crisis.
Our lawyers understand that clients need advice that is specific to their needs and circumstances but also practical and commercially driven. We take pride that our service is completely bespoke: there is no “conveyor belt” approach that comes from servicing bulk contracts with insurers.
In addition to advising on the criminal and regulatory health and safety issues, our clients benefit from our expertise in representation at inquests, an area in which we have much experience.
Recent work includes:
The department is led by partner Andrew Katzen, who has spent many years’ acting for clients in all aspects of professional discipline. He is a member of the Health and Safety Lawyers Association and has written articles and given presentations on health and safety issues in association with the British Safety Council. Regulatory law specialist Claire Wallace is a partner in the department.