The Health and Safety Offences Act

What are the tougher penalties which have been created by the Health and Safety Offences Act 2008?

The Health and Safety Offences Act 2008 is a legislative instrument which has at the heart of it the punishment of the criminally negligent who put life and limb in danger in the workplace and to deter those who are tempted to cut costs by breaking the law.

What has been the main change that has been brought in by the Health and Safety Offences Act?

The Health and Safety Offences Act amends Section 33 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 in the following three ways:

  1. Raising the maximum fine that may be imposed by magistrates’ courts to £20,000 for most offences

  2. Making a prison sentence an option for most health and safety offences in a magistrates’ court or the Crown Court

  3. Making certain offences triable in the magistrates’ court or the Crown Court

Raising the maximum fine to £20,000

Prior to the Health and Safety Offences Act being introduced the maximum fine that could be imposed for certain offences of breach of a health and safety regulation made under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

This has not been increased to £20,000 for all offences under the Health and Safety at Work Act and enables the Crown Court to impose unlimited fines for some breaches of health and safety regulations and most offences under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Making a prison sentence an option

Prior to the Health and Safety Offences Act being introduced only one health and safety offence could lead to a potential prison sentence for an individual. Now under the Health and Safety Offences Act all offences – with only four minor exceptions will attract a potential prison sentence from a magistrates’ court or from the Crown Court.

Making certain offences triable in the magistrates’ court or the Crown Court?

The main reason for this change is to ensure an increased flexibility of the court system in ensuring that more offences can be heard by either court.

Will all employees guilty of health and safety offences be likely to face a prison sentence?

The Health and Safety Offences Act provides for the potential that any employee who has contributed to a health and safety offence by their consent, connivance or neglect may be liable to imprisonment.

Will this apply to all health and safety offences?

In practice it is only really intended to apply to the most serious cases of health and safety breaches, i.e. ones that create public outrage.

In most cases this will be health and safety offences where one of the following his happened:

  • Serious neglect of an individual leads to major injury or death

  • Where there has been reckless disregard for health and safety requirements and / or the risk of harm

  • Where there have been repeated breaches that cause significant risks to occur or where there has been persistent and significant non-compliance with health and safety requirements

  • Where false information that relates to enforcement of health and safety requirements is willfully supplied by an individual

  • Where there have been serious risks that have been deliberately created to increase profit 

How does this relate to Corporate Manslaughter?

The Health and Safety Offences Act does not make any amendments to the law on corporate manslaughter enshrined in the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, but it does however, enable prosecutions for health and safety offences to be brought alongside prosecutions under the Corporate Manslaughter Act.

What does this mean in practice?

In practice this means that a company could be convicted of corporate manslaughter with an individual director or senior manager of the company also being convicted and imprisoned under a related health and safety offence.

This will not, however, mean that the individual has been imprisoned for corporate manslaughter.