The importance of getting Health and Safety right

Written 23rd June 2023 by Gareth Martin

In a time when the financial pressures faced by all in society seem to be increasing by the day, the temptation to cut corners and put profit before all else may well be greater than ever before. This combined with the misconceived opinion that the likes of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are out to prosecute every business and business owner come what may, can lead to an apathy towards health and safety legislation and even result in some people simply refusing to follow the rules. There are also still a not insignificant number of businesses and individuals who think that the rules don’t apply to them because, “that’s the way we’ve done it for years and never been a problem”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whatever your personal opinion of the HSE or the laws and regulations that they are charged with enforcing, the simple fact is that health and safety can’t be ignored nor should it. Setting aside the the moral aspect of presumably wanting to ensure that workers go home safely at the end of the day, there are practical and beneficial business reasons for getting it right. Injuries and ill-health caused by poor health and safety standards will inevitably result in workers taking time off which reduces a business’ efficiency, output and turnover and may even result in claims against the company and increased insurance premiums thereof. On the flip side, for those who do take the health, safety and welfare of their workforce seriously, then the likelihood is that you will see positive staff engagement, increased productivity with fewer absences and lower staff turnover. Whilst it must be acknowledged that many smaller businesses may not have the resources to employ a full-time health and safety specialist, the fact is that no matter the size of the business, the obligations remain the same and ultimately no business can afford to disregard or simply pay lip service to safety policies and procedures. As can be seen from the examples below, to do so can be very costly.

Recent HSE prosecutions:

 
  • On 20 June 2023, Circle Health Group Limited were fined £160,000 and ordered to pay £12,520 in costs at Basingstoke Magistrates’ Court. The company had pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) and s3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 following an incident in March 2021 during which three workers were exposed to potentially deadly levels of chlorine gas. A HSE investigation found that the company had failed to put in place recognised industry standards relating to risk assessments, training and appropriate instructions and safe systems of work for those involved in the handling and mixing of chemicals. As a result, the company fell far short of ensuring the health, safety and welfare of its employees and contractors.
  • VN Labs Limited, of Trafford Park, Manchester was fined £180,000 and ordered to pay £7,490 costs at Manchester Magistrates Court on 16 June 2023, having previously pleaded guilty to breaches of s2(1) and s3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The prosecution was brought following a HSE investigation into the circumstances surrounding an incident where a worker lost two fingers and a thumb while clearing a blockage in a packaging machine. The investigation found that the machine had been imported without any guarding and although the company’s engineering team had installed their own plastic guard, access to dangerous parts of the machine was still possible. To make matters worse, the company failed to implement a safe system for clearing blockages and did not effectively supervise and monitor its working processes. The incident was considered to be easily avoidable.
  • Safran Seats GB Limited, a leading manufacturer of aircraft seats was fined £660,000 and ordered to pay costs of £13,472 on 14 June 2023. The company had pleaded guilty to breaching s33(1)(a) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. One of its employees suffered multiple broken bones and a fractured skull when he fell through a roof whilst dismantling and removing a spraying booth at a site in South Wales. An investigation found that there had been inadequate planning of the work which meant that unsuitable equipment was used and insufficient instruction and training provided to those carrying out the work.
  • PSV Glass and Glazing Limited was recently fined £200,000 and ordered to pay £4,987 in costs at Manchester Magistrates’ Court. The company of High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire had pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The prosecution stemmed from an incident during which an employee was crushed by a crate, leaving them with broken ribs and fractured vertebrae. A HSE investigation uncovered a number of failings in relation to the system of work used to move crates, as well as a lack of a suitable risk assessment despite a previous similar incident.

How can we help?

If the HSE decides to investigate or worse still prosecute you or your business, it is important that you seek immediate legal advice and assistance. The team at Olliers have a wealth of experience when it comes to defending employers, employees and companies facing investigation and prosecution, so get in touch today. As can be seen from the examples above, the consequences of a conviction for health and safety offences can be far-reaching. In the most serious cases, the fines imposed can run to tens and even hundreds of thousands of pounds and individuals can face imprisonment. No matter what has happened we can help you navigate the process and will do everything possible to ensure the best possible outcome for you and your business.
Gareth Martin

Gareth Martin

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Manchester

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