The Health and Safety Offences Act 2008 came into force on Friday 16th January 2009.
Judith Hackitt Chair of the Health and Safety Executive welcomed the Act which arose from a private members bill. She said:-
"This Act gives our Courts the power to impose higher fines for some Health and Safety offences. It is right that they should be a deterrent to those business and individuals that do not take their Health and Safety responsibilities seriously. Everyone has the right to work in an environment where risk to their Health & Safety are properly managed and employers have a duty in law to deliver this.
Our message to the many employers who do manage Heath & Safety well is that they having nothing to fear from this change in law. There are many duties on employers or businesses and HSE are not changing its approach to how it enforces Health and Safety laws. One should obtain the important safeguards that ensure that our Inspectors should use their powers sensibly and proportionately. We will continue to target those who namely cut corners, put lives at risk and who gain commercial advantage over competitors by failing to comply with the law."
Effectively ambit of the Act is as follows: -
- To raise the maximum fine which may be imposed in the lower Courts to £20,000 for most Health & Safety Offences
- Make imprisonment an option for more Health & Safety Offences in both the lower and higher Courts.
- Make certain offences which are currently trialable only in the lower Courts, trialable in either the lower or higher Courts.
The Health and Safety Offences Act 2008 is not retrospective.
The duty on an employer is, as defined within Section 1(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act, namely that an employer has to ensure that Health and Safety at work of all his employees and that persons not in his employment are not exposed to risk to their Health and Safety.
If a Health and Safety offence is committed with the consent or connivance of an Officer of the Company then they are liable for the commission of any offence.
Therefore we are now in the position that Health & Safety offences have become imprisonable. Directors and Officers of Companies are liable to terms of imprisonment.
The reverse burden of proof imposed by Section 40 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 mean that when an accident occurs and the employer in prosecuted for breach of a duty imposed by that Act it is for the defendant company or defendant officer to prove that it was not practical for him/them to have done anymore than they did.
It is imperative therefore that even in these financially straitened, times corners are not cut and appropriate polices and procedures are in place and are complied with.
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