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Tougher punishments for H&S breaches from this week

12 January 2009

From the end of this week, the Health & Safety Offences Act will make imprisonement of directors an option together with fines up to £20,000 for breaches of H&S rules.

A new health and safety law due to come into force this Friday will give courts greater power to punish directors of companies which breach the rules, warns law firm, DWF. The Health and Safety Offences Act, which will be introduced on 16 January, will make imprisonment an option for many offences.

According to Steffan Groch, head of regulatory at DWF, it will mean directors could be treated
as criminals by the courts. The Act raises the maximum penalties which lower courts can impose from
£5,000 to £20,000. It also increases the range of offences for which an individual may be imprisoned and makes certain offences, which are currently only triable in the lower courts, triable in both lower and
higher courts.

Steffan Groch says: “Coming in the wake of the Corporate Manslaughter Act and a clampdown by the Health & Safety Executive, this new Act will further turn up the heat on directors and senior managers. What was once considered a breach of regulations could in future become a criminal matter. We are likely to see tougher punishments, including more jail sentences, imposed on people in positions of authority.

“Whilst it is right that directors who neglect their responsibilities should be punished accordingly, we should also remember that under health and safety law, in many circumstances people are presumed guilty unless they can prove their innocence and directors can be considered guilty of neglect even for things they were not aware of.

“The message is that directors and senior managers can no longer afford to be lax about health and safety. They need to take a systematic approach, ensure risk assessments are carried out and proper procedures are in place to minimise risks and help protect their staff and the public at large.”

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