Last edited 04 Mar 2021

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The Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008

Breaches in health and safety law could now land employers or their staff in prison, where previously they would have faced fines. The Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008 came into effect in January 2009 and means that employees or their bosses could face up to two years in prison for failing to comply with legislation.

This applies to anyone who contributes to a health and safety offence, even if an accident or injury has not occurred. In other words, if someone behaves recklessly, and they have been properly trained, they could personally be prosecuted and given a custodial sentence. The reckless behaviour does not need to result in a serious incident, only the possibility of one. The same thing applies to anyone who fails to take proper care of other people's safety, including, for example, not carrying out a risk assessment or fire risk assessment.

The purpose of the law is to try to get employers to take its matters seriously. More than 200 people are killed every year in accidents at work, and many more are injured. The costs to businesses are huge. Even minor breaches of the rules now carry fines of up to £20,000, and whereas fines were previously related to specific serious breaches, people can now be fined for just about any offence.

The Act gives lower courts the power to impose higher fines for some offences, offering a real deterrent to those businesses and individuals that do not take their responsibilities seriously. Everyone has the right to work in an environment where risks to their safety are properly managed, and employers have a duty in law to deliver this.

The Act does not place any new duties on employers, and those following the law have nothing to fear. It is intended to target those few people who willfully ignore the regulations and put their staff or colleagues at risk by cutting corners or being careless.


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