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Safety body supports Bill to raise safety fines to £20,000

07 May 2008

The president of IOSH has backed proposals that would see rogue employers face a quadrupling of fines and an increased threat of jail if it becomes law. The Health and Safety (Offences) Bill, introduced by Keith Hill MP (Labour, Streatham) aims to toughen up sentences for H&S at work offences.

Ray Hurst, president of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), welcomed the proposals: “If the bill makes it into law, it will send a strong message to employers that health and safety offences are treated just as seriously as other breaches where people can be killed or seriously injured. Our aim is to prevent workplace injuries and ill health that devastate people’s lives and to help ensure more employers take appropriate action to protect their workers.

“Each of the 241 deaths and 274,000 injuries at work last year are a personal tragedy and so we welcome this ‘get tough’ approach. For too long, rogue employers have been able to get away with paltry fines*2 for some dreadful health and safety offences. We hope the measures outlined in this new bill will bring an end to that – we strongly support the need for sanctions that reflect the gravity of the failures involved.”

Keith Hill added: “Over the years, there have been repeated expressions of frustration from the courts at their inability to impose tougher sentences for health and safety offences. Maximum fines for health and safety offences are now way behind those of comparable legislation, such as environmental and food safety, and I firmly believe that isn’t right.

“This bill is not about ruining companies, and it’s not about imposing more red tape on business. It’s about preventing needless injury, ill-health and death in the workplace and ensuring proper punishments are handed down to those organisations who cause such suffering. I’m pleased an organisation of the status of IOSH is supportive of the bill, and I hope we’ll see it come into law in the near future.”

The Health and Safety (Offences) Bill seeks to increase the maximum fine in magistrates’ courts from £5,000 to £20,000 for most health and safety offences, allow more of them to be triable in the higher courts and make imprisonment an option more often.

The changes proposed by the Bill were first recommended following a joint 1999 review of maximum penalties for health and safety offences, by the Home Office, the then Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, and the Health and Safety Executive. Following this, in 2000, in their Revitalising Health and Safety Strategy, the government pledged to seek an early parliamentary opportunity to provide courts with greater sentencing powers for health and safety crimes (Action point 7).

In 2005/06, the average penalty per conviction was just under £10, 000 . If untypical large fines (more than £100,000) are omitted, the average fine was just under £5,000. Provisional figures for 2006/2007 are around £15,000 for the average penalty per conviction and just under £9,000 if fines in excess of £100,000 are excluded.

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