The Crown Court has recently seen several cases where breaches in health and safety legislation have brought severe consequences to businesses. For example; an employee of a fish processing company suffered fatal injuries when a stack of boxed of frozen product fell on him. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found there was no system in place to ensure a safe environment and there were no instructions given to staff on how to store the boxes correctly. The company was fined £500,000 and had to pay prosecution’s costs of £24,800 for breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
A breach of the health and safety legislation would constitute a criminal offence and should a safety breach be the cause of death, a conviction of gross negligence manslaughter or corporate manslaughter could be the outcome. Common consequences to a business for a breach of health and safety include;
- Fines – this could range from £50 to £10 million plus legal costs.
- Reputational damage – tender questionnaires can often look closely at the health and safety history of a business, this could potentially cause extended financial implications for future profit.
- Prosecution of individuals –individual contribution to the health and safety breach could result in up to 2 years imprisonment and for those who do avoid a custodial sentence could still be left with the stigma of a criminal conviction.
The HSE has published guidance within a number of documents that sets out specifically how it will investigate health and safety breaches. There are instances included of where prosecution is likely to be favoured by the HSE. These include;
- Death as a result of a breach.
- Reckless disregard of requirements.
- Intentional obstruction of investigators in the course of their duties.
- False information being provided or in cases where there was an intent to deceive.
Should you find your business under a HSE investigation, you should cooperate fully with the investigation and if appropriate accept an invitation to send a representative to be interviewed under caution. You should also check your business insurance policy as to whether it covers legal expenses in the event of an investigation and criminal prosecution for a health and safety related breach.