16 June, 2009
The Government's crusade to force organisations to take health & safety issues more seriously shows no signs of running out of steam. Hot on the heels of last years widely publicised Corporate Manslaughter Legislation comes the far less publicised Health & Safety (offences) Act 2009 which came into force on the 16th January 2009.
Whilst this new Legislation does not create any new offences it still represents a very significant change in the way that Courts will deal with sentencing in health & safety prosecutions. The Courts have been granted greater powers than were previously available. Magistrates' Courts now have the power to fine up to a maximum of £20,000 and in addition to this they now have the power to imprison individuals for a maximum period of 12 months. In the Crown Court fines are unlimited and the maximum period of imprisonment is 24 months.
It should be noted that the Courts extended powers are not limited to fatal accidents. They also apply to any situation where an employer has failed to ensure the health and safety of its employees or any other person who may be affected by its activities. Thus managers and employees for that matter now face the very real risk of a criminal investigation and prosecution if they have caused an accident.
It follows therefore that it is essential to obtain early legal advice after any accident in which the HSE and/or the Police have shown a significant interest.