New Act bringing higher fines and imprisonment for safety breaches

The Health and Safety Offences Act has now received royal assent. The Government has said that the new punishments reflect the seriousness of some breaches, but experts have warned that they could lead to very severe punishments of executives who have made honest mistakes.

The changes will increase the number of situations in which people can be imprisoned for health and safety breaches. Any employee who fails to take reasonable care for the health and safety of others or themselves could now face jail.

Directors and senior managers whose company commits a breach could also face imprisonment where the breach happened with their consent or connivance or due to their neglect.  The new law also increases the maximum fine available to lower courts from £5,000 to £20,000. Higher courts retain their power to levy unlimited fines.

The Government said that the new powers would help punishments to match very severe cases. “It is generally accepted that the level of fines for some health and safety offences is too low,” said Lord McKenzie, minister at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

“These changes will ensure that sentences can now be more easily set at a level to deter businesses that do not take their health and safety management responsibilities seriously and further encourage employers and others to comply with the law.”

“Jail sentences for particularly blameworthy health and safety offences committed by individuals, can now be imposed reflecting the severity of such crimes, whereas there were more limited options in the past,” he said.

Health and Safety Executive chair Judith Hackitt said that most executives should not fear the severe punishments.

“The new Act sends out an important message to those who flout the law. However, good employers and good managers have nothing to fear,” she said. “Our enforcement policy targets those who cut corners, gain commercial advantage over competitors by failing to comply with health and safety law and who put workers and the public at risk.”

The possibility of individuals being imprisoned for health and safety offences is a significant and worrying development, particularly for company directors and managers.

The Act amends Section 33 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, and will come into force in January 2009, the Government said. As well as increasing the fines available in lower courts and the number of offences for which imprisonment is an option, it also makes more offences triable in higher courts.

The Government said that the prosecution of individuals should not be “undertaken lightly”. The new rules make it even more important that companies put in place proper health and safety policies. Getting health and safety right is now more important than ever and there are some important precautionary measures which should be taken to reduce exposure to these increased penalties.

Nursery committed to safety, following two incidents

Parents of youngsters at a Norfolk nursery have been assured it is committed to the safety of children, despite two incidents which have sparked concerns and official investigations.

Local people were shocked when a two-year-old girl escaped from the nursery and was found wandering on the busy road outside.  Then it was revealed that at the same nursery just weeks earlier, a one-year-old baby boy was scalded by a cup of hot drink.

Officials are undertaking a “thorough review” of provision following the two incidents.  A spokesman has said: “It is deeply regrettable that there have been two incidents at the day care section of the centre in such close succession, and we apologies to the children and families concerned.”

Two members of staff had been suspended while investigations continued into the scalding incident.  The nursery’s safety record in the past has been good and it remains committed to ensuring the health and safety of the children in its care.

Parents admitted they were shocked, but said it was unexpected at a centre known to be “hot on security”.  A mother of a three-year-old girl at the nursery, said: “It’s concerning to hear and you wouldn’t expect it. The security is quite good. You have to ring a bell to get in. I’ll still be taking her there. I’ve not heard any bad things about the place before.”

Another mum who has a son at the nursery, said: “I’ve every confidence in them. They’re hot on security. They won’t let anybody go unless they are with their own mum and dad. The chairman of the School governors said: “Everyone at the school is devastated by the news that a child managed to leave the nursery building. We would all like to offer our sincere apologies to the family.  While we await the outcome of the investigation we’ve taken a number of measures to even further enhance the security.”

At Norfolk County Council, the head of early years, childcare and extended schools services, said: “A thorough review of provision at the children’s centre is under way following these two separate incidents and we will be working with the school and children’s centre to ensure that health and safety policy is being fully followed.”

Health and safety arrangements in schools and nurseries were “robust” and the council offered advice and support where necessary.

Each setting has its own health and safety policy in place and Ofsted carry out regular unannounced inspections of early years providers. We will be reissuing guidance to childcare settings to ensure they are following the latest advice.

Hotel gas safety breach leads to negligence trial for Thomas Cook staff

Two Thomas Cook employees will face a trial over the deaths of two British children during a holiday in Corfu , judges have ruled after turning down an appeal for the charges to be dropped.

Health and safety inspector Richard Carson and holiday representative Nicola Gibson will now face charges of negligence.

The appeal against the charges was made by the District Attorney of the Corfu Appeal Court , who proposed that legal action against the Thomas Cook staff should not go ahead as they were not responsible for the accident.

However, Corfu ‘s senior council of judges decided they should be tried after ruling they should not have relied on assurances by the Corcyra Beach Hotel that its gas system was safe.

Robert and Christianne Shepherd, six and seven respectively, died in October 2006 after carbon monoxide leaked into the air conditioning system from a faulty gas boiler at the hotel. The children’s father and his partner were also hospitalised by the incident.

A spokesman for Thomas Cook said: “Even though the District Attorney’s appeal has not been upheld, we continue to support and stand by the two people concerned and believe they will be vindicated when the case is heard.”