Health & Safety Executive (HSE) publishes annual statistics on injury and ill health. The statistics include figures for work-related ill health, workplace injuries, working days lost, enforcement action taken and the associated costs. Workplace injury rate is highest for agriculture, forestry and fishing. There are also relatively high rates for construction, public administration/defence, wholesale/ retail trade, repair of motor vehicles, manufacturing and accommodation/food service activities. However, the UK still has the lowest fatal injury rate out of the large EU economies, according to Eurostat. The figures also reveal that 364 cases have been prosecuted or referred for prosecution in Scotland, by the HSE, where a conviction was achieved in 2018/19, resulting in fines of 54.5 million. The report notes that, although the total level of fines issued has decreased compared to the previous year, this is due to a fall in the number of cases completed, because the average fine per conviction is at the same level as 2017/18.
Proposed changes to laws on mobile phone use in vehicles. The government has announced that it plans to update the law to prevent hand-held phone use in any capacity (for example, browsing a playlist or viewing a message) while driving. Proposals are at an early stage, but employers of drivers should monitor the changes to ensure that policies and approach continue to reflect legal requirements in future.
Corporate manslaughter charges brought in two separate cases. This month has seen a report of a heating business charged with corporate manslaughter after the death of a man while working at a property near Ripon, following a fall. There were also reports of The Crown Prosecution Service authorising Cheshire Police to charge Wood Treatment Limited with corporate manslaughter and one of its directors with gross negligence manslaughter, following four deaths at Bosley Mill, a wood flour mill, which made wood chip products. There are also health and safety charges. There are now definitive sentencing guidelines covering both corporate manslaughter and manslaughter (which would be relevant for gross negligence manslaughter charges). The offence range under the guideline for gross negligence manslaughter is between one month and 18 years' imprisonment (with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment). The sentence range for corporate manslaughter is from 180,000 to 20 million, with the court determining the seriousness of the offence before identifying the starting point and category range for the fine.
Call for evidence in review of cybersecurity incentives and regulation. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is seeking to understand the perceived lack of strong commercial rationale for investment in cybersecurity and to consider how using market levers could incentivise better cybersecurity risk management in the future. The deadline for responses is 20 December 2019.
Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee publishes follow-up report on safety of electrical goods in the UK. The report criticises manufacturers and also says the response of the Office for Product Safety and Security (OPSS) raises questions as to its independence, competence and its ability to challenge a company whose attitude to product safety had already been subject to heavy criticism. It suggests that the forthcoming review and consultation on OPSS should consider making it an independent and fully transparent body, placing the consumer at the heart of its decision making and, also, that the power to impose civil sanctions would act as an importance deterrent for non-compliance and give the OPSS more authority in dealing with manufacturers. Recommendations also include the introduction of a national injury and incident database, a registration and recall hub and indelible marking for electrical goods. However, these are recommendations only and the decision as to whether to implement these and, if so, when, will rest with the government.
Numerous fines for health and safety offences in agricultural sector. The HSE has reported on prosecutions of a farming partnership after a member of the public was fatally injured by a loader, a dairy farm fined following an incident where an employee was blinded by disinfectant chemicals and a 60,000 fine for an egg production company after a fork lift truck overturned (the areas where the vehicles were driven had significant changes in gradient which were not a suitable surface for the type of fork lift trucks in use, according to the press release). In addition, a farm equipment manufacturer was fined following an injury to an employee in a lathe and a sentence of 10 months' imprisonment (suspended) imposed on a director of an agricultural trailer manufacturer which exposed workers to chemicals. Although the last two cases did not involve primary production, the spate of prosecutions are a reminder, as commented by the HSE inspector in one of the cases, that agriculture is an industry with a high accident rate, and the use of potentially dangerous chemicals and vehicles at work pose risks to health and safety.
Information Commissioner (ICO) invites views on application for powers under Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA). POCA investigation and other associated powers would enable the ICO to assist the court in the identification of assets and to determine the value of a criminal's proceeds from crime. The consultation proposes that an Accredited Financial Investigator be based within the ICO's Investigation Department who will consider asset recovery in cases where offenders have benefited from criminal conduct.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) published draft regulations to ban selected single use plastics. The ban will apply to distribution and sales of plastic drinking straws, plastic-stemmed cotton buds (with some exceptions) and plastic drink stirrers. The bans will apply in England from 6 April 2020, except for a ban on supplying a drink product with an attached plastic straw, which will apply from 3 July 2021.
High Court does not have jurisdiction to stay Crown Court proceedings for environmental offences against a company in liquidation. In the case of Rattan and Cooper v Natural Resource Body for Wales (NRW), the liquidators of Paperback Collection and Recycling Limited, a company in creditors' voluntary liquidation, applied for an order to stay NRW criminal proceedings against the company for unlawfully storing over 14,500 tonnes of waste at two of its sites, in contravention of environmental permits. The High Court held that it did not have jurisdiction to stay proceedings against a company in liquidation in the Crown Court for environmental offences. The court's power under the Insolvency Act did not extend to intervening in proceedings before another court to impose a stay. The judge also stated that, even if it had had such power, it would have declined to exercise it because the public interest in the prosecution of serious environmental offences outweighed the potential disadvantage to the company's creditors.
Environment Bill criticized by environmental law experts. A letter to the Telegraph signed by 23 experts (17 legal professors and six leading environmental lawyers) states that the Bill does not "enshrine the highest standards in law" as the prime minister has claimed. Rather than maintaining and improving environmental protection post-Brexit, the letter says "it allows for weaker environmental standards to be introduced in future" and "makes no commitment to non-regression" of standards. The letter concludes that "British citizens have been promised environmental law and governance that will not allow standards to slip following our departure from the EU. As it stands, this Bill does not deliver on that promise."
Two European Environment Agency (EEA) briefings highlight reuse and recycling as key to tackling Europe's waste problem and to foster a more circular economy. The two briefings assess the role of plastic waste export in the circular economy and a snapshot of resource losses from waste management, the latter looking specifically at waste from electrical and electronic equipment, end-of-life batteries, and textile and plastic waste. The briefing on exports of plastic waste shows there is huge potential to increase reuse and recycling in the coming years and this could provide a large amount of material resources for local manufacturers, particularly now that many previous export options are no longer available. It does recognize the shorter term risk of increased incineration and landfilling of plastics until extra recycling capacity in the EU has been built. The briefing on resources and waste management shows that tens of millions of tonnes of plastic waste, and millions of tonnes of electronic waste, are generated in the EU every year and thrown away with little to no recycling or repurposing.
The Supreme Court (SC) held that the High Court had jurisdiction to grant equitable relief from forfeiture of a water and effluent discharge licence. In 1962, the Manchester Ship Canal Company Ltd (MSCC) granted Vauxhall Motors Ltd (V) a perpetual licence to discharge surface water and trade effluent into the Manchester Ship Canal, for a 50 annual fee, including rights to construct and maintain pipes. V failed to pay the licence fee in 2013 and MSCC terminated the licence, and when negotiations broke down, V applied to the court for relief from forfeiture in a situation which was not the usual one (i.e. it related to a licence, not a property right). V won each time and MSCC appealed it up to the SC. The SC also found in favour of V and dismissed the appeal, finding no justification for a blanket distinction between proprietary and personal rights in the context of relief from forfeiture. Case law had also established the availability of relief from forfeiture of possessory rights over personal property and it would be odd for equity to treat real property differently. This case is useful clarification that relief from forfeiture of a licence is possible, but the facts are rather unusual so it is unlikely to have broad application.
Government publishes two more climate change policy documents. It published the terms of reference of HM Treasury's Net Zero Review into funding the transition to a net zero economy and more details about the Industrial Energy Transformation Fund (IETF). The Review will look at how the transition to net zero will be funded and where the costs will fall and the report will be published in autumn 2020. The IETF will provide funding for capital investment in energy efficiency and decarbonisation projects. The first phase (around 30 million) will launch in spring 2020 and open for applications in summer 2020, and there will be a second phase in 2021. It is worth 315 million through to 2023/24.
EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) amending regulations have been made. The Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trading Scheme (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations come into force on several dates between 21 November 2019 and 1 January 2021. They transpose the EU ETS Phase IV Directive 2018 IV (2021-2030), so that the UK can remain in the EU ETS pending resolution of the type and timing of Brexit. The government will make further regulations to implement additional aspects of Phase IV of EU ETS during 2020, if the UK is in a post-Brexit transition period, and to introduce other changes related to carbon pricing. The government had consulted on carbon pricing in May 2019, and published its partial response on 31 October regarding options for remaining in the EU ETS during Phase IV (which are reflected in these new regulations). The consultation also explored options for a UK emissions trading system, either linked to the EU ETS or standalone. The government has said that it will publish its response to those proposals in due course. In a connected development, the BEIS announced that, in the event of a no-deal Brexit on 31 January 2020, a carbon emissions tax would apply from 4 February 2020 (rate yet to be announced).
The EU Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on end-of-waste criteria in the Waste Framework Directive (WFD) and Renewable Energy Directive (RED), confirming that these do not prevent national law refusing to allow used vegetable oils as fuel for an electric power plant. In Prato Nevoso Termo Energy Srl v Provincia di Cuneo and ARPA Piemonte, the ECJ held that such a national law was not precluded when the member state considered that the applicant has failed to show that the oil satisfied the end of waste criteria in the WFD and failed to demonstrate that it had no possible environmental or human health impacts. The case was referred back to the Italian courts to determine if, on the facts, this used oil did satisfy the WFD end of waste criteria and had no adverse impact on the environment and human health.
A Birmingham independent supermarket has been fined 75,000 for fly-tipping and trade waste offences in a prosecution brought by Birmingham City Council. The investigation began after public complaints and reports from council bin crews of staff trying to throw sacks of business waste into the bin lorry when they was collecting street bin waste (which also seemed to mainly consist of fruit and vegetable waste). The council had, therefore, asked the company to evidence how it disposed of its business waste. Following this request, large quantities of refuse sacks were found nearby containing items that traced it back to the supermarket business. A council spokesperson said that "this prosecution shows how high the risk is when businesses don't have the right arrangements in place for their waste collection, or when they choose to dump waste on the streets of Birmingham."
A court has held that the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR) prevail over legal privilege. In Brooksbank v Information Commissioner, the appellant successfully argued that privileged instructions to counsel should be disclosed under the EIR. There is an exception under the EIR where disclosure can be withheld where it concerns "the course of justice", and both parties acknowledged this exception was engaged. However, there is a further hurdle under the EIR, even when an exception applies, that it is also in the public interest not to disclose. The tribunal accepted that there was a clear public interest built into maintaining privilege. However, the appellant made strong arguments as to why the public interest favoured disclosure, which the tribunal ultimately accepted (albeit by "a fine margin"). This is a notable decision, as it is very rare not to see privilege prevail in the public interest test. However, this will always be fact specific and there were serious and substantiated concerns about the council's decision making process.
The Council of the EU has adopted legislation reforms on sustainable finance and investment firms, which will be signed during the week of 25 November 2019. The legislation amends a number of regulations on disclosures relating to sustainable investments and sustainability risks, the low carbon benchmarks regulation and regulations on investment firms. In summary, the reforms include a new category of benchmarks contributing to sustainable finance, transparency obligations for sustainable investments and a new prudential framework for investment firms. There are important new aspects for investment firms who must make it clearer whether and how they consider sustainability factors in investment decisions.
First of its kind fine imposed on "negligent" diesel pollution filter manufacturer. European Exhaust and Catalyst Ltd (EEC) was prosecuted by the Market Surveillance Unit of the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) and fined 3,000, plus costs of 10,460 and a victim surcharge of 170, for supplying replacement diesel particulate filters for use in Euro 5 diesel cars and vans, though they met only the earlier Euro 4 standard. The limit on emissions from Euro 4 vehicles is about five times more than Euro 5. This is the first prosecution of its kind under the Motor Vehicles (Replacement of Catalytic converters and Pollution Control Devices) Regulations 2009, although it has been reported that at least one other similar case, against a large supplier of catalytic convertors, is in the pipeline.
National Federation of Builders (NFB) urges government to invest in low carbon construction. In its report, Transforming Construction for a Low Carbon Future, NFB calls on the next government to invest 15 billion a year in reducing carbon emissions from the residential sector, and a further 5 billion to 10 billion a year for industrial and commercial property and infrastructure. NBF describes the report as a call to arms and "the start of a transformation in the construction industry in which main contractors will play a critical role, alongside a Government willing to support the industry through regulation, guidance and funding. Massive carbon reduction will not just happen; it requires great commitment, vision and determination and the time to start is now."
A man in Manchester received a criminal behaviour order for repeated playing of loud music. This was Greater Manchester's first criminal behaviour order against statutory noise nuisance. The man had already been the subject of an abatement notice (which he ignored), and his music playing equipment had been seized on two occasions. The criminal behaviour order lasts five years and, if breached, can lead to a prison sentence. The man was also fined 1,500.
International Standards Organisation (ISO) launches new global benchmark on natural capital. ISO 14007 sets out guidelines for determining environmental costs and benefits and is intended to help organisations undertake a cost benefit analysis of their environmental aspects and impacts (also known as valuing natural capital). The UK government, in its 25 year plan for the environment, also uses a natural capital approach as a tool to help make decisions.
Campaigners lose Court of Appeal case to block energy-from-waste (EfW) plant development. The group, called Bedfordshire Against Covanta Incinerator (BACI), lost its appeal to challenge the grant of an environmental permit for the Rookery South EfW plant. This was an appeal from a High Court ruling in 2018 which also dismissed the group's challenge. The plant began construction in early 2019 and is due to be operational in 2022.
Weetabix has been fined almost 140,000 for polluting a river with diesel fuel. The EA prosecuted the company for polluting the River Ise with diesel leaked from a disused storage area because valves were left open. The storage facility was decommissioned approximately 20 years ago and Weetabix had previously been advised by the EA to remove the pipework from the decommissioned tank, but it had not done so. The EA referred in the case to "corporate amnesia" by Weetabix in failing to carry out appropriate checks on pipes and valves in storage facilities on the site. The clean-up operation cost Weetabix 500,000 and the court acknowledged its otherwise blemish free environmental compliance track record.
European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) asks member states to evaluate 74 chemicals. The ECHA published its draft update of the Community Rolling Action Plan (CoRAP) for 20202022. The updated plan identifies the authority to evaluate each of 74 substances suspected of posing a risk to human health or the environment, most of which being potential endocrine disruptors. Registrants and downstream users of these chemicals are invited to start reviewing the available information and coordinating actions. The Member State Committee is expected to prepare an opinion on the draft CoRAP update by February 2020, after which ECHA will adopt the final CoRAP update. After publication of the CoRAP, the competent authorities have one year to prepare a draft decision requesting further information from the respective registrants to clarify potential concerns identified during evaluation.
ECHA finds that companies need to improve communication of hazardous substances in products. ECHA's Forum for Exchange of Information on Enforcement (Forum) found that the majority (88%) of suppliers fail to communicate sufficient information to their customers about substances of very high concern (SVHCs) in their products, as required under the REACH. The report concludes that information throughout the supply chain can improve, with efforts from the industry, ECHA, national enforcement authorities and the Forum. The ECHA Secretariat and the Forum said that they will further analyse the project's results and consider actions on this basis.
European Commission consults on PFOA restrictions. Until 5 December, the European Commission is consulting the public on a proposal to restrict the production, use, import and export of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), its salts and PFOA-related compounds under Annex I of the Regulation 2019/1021. That regulation implements the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. The Commission proposal sets a limit value at 0,025 mg/kg for PFOA, including its salts, and at 1 mg/kg for the individual PFOA-related compounds. The proposed delegated regulation foresees exemptions and higher concentration for applications where those concentration limits cannot currently be met, e.g. for PFOA used in photographic coatings applied to films or in invasive and implantable medical devices. The proposal implements decisions taken at the ninth meeting of the Stockholm Convention Conference of the Parties (CoP) to include PFOA in Annex A to the Convention. After the consultation, and once the Commission adopts the act, the European Parliament and Council will have two months to raise objections, if any. The restriction would start to apply on 4 July 2020.
Green groups call for EU action on PFAS. Following a decision by the Danish government to ban PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances) from paper-based food contact materials as of mid-2020, environmental groups demanded wider action at EU level. Most of the population would be contaminated by such chemicals, especially through water, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) stated, based on data from the World Health Organisation. In October, ChemTrust said it was "extremely concerned" about PFAS, also known as the "forever chemicals", since they would be the "most persistent synthetic chemicals to date" due to their persistence and mobility in the environment. According to the ChemTrust, a global ban of the substances should be considered, and EU restrictions for all PFAS substances are urgent. At EU level, only the PFOA substance, part of the PFAS family and widely used in the production of non-stick coatings, has been identified as a substance of very high concern (SVHC) and included on the REACH Candidate List. In use since the 1940s, PFAS are found in a wide array of consumer and industrial products. Scientists across Europe are currently developing the biomonitoring programme HMB4EU with the aim to provide EU regulators with an overview of levels of human contamination from 18 of the most concerning chemical groups, including flame retardants, pesticides, plasticisers and the PFAS family. The results are expected to be released in 2020.
European Parliament objects to draft authorisation of chromium trioxide. The European Parliament adopted a resolution objecting to the draft Commission implementing decision to authorise uses of chromium trioxide (CrO3) under the REACH Regulation. In particular, the Parliament contested the broad scope of the application and argued that safer alternatives are currently available for some of the stated uses. It referred to a recent judgment by the EU General Court on lead chromates (T-837/16; please see frESH Law Horizons March 2019; under appeal), stating that when uncertainties remain with regard to the condition of unavailability of alternatives, an authorisation cannot be granted. Since 2013, this substance is subject to REACH authorisation, meaning that companies wishing to continue using it have to apply for permission. In 2015, four companies asked the Commission to consider authorising its use in functional chrome plating in a broad array of applications, including steel production. The Parliament's objection is not legally binding, but means that the Commission must review its draft.
European Commission announces standardisation priorities. The Commission adopted the annual Union Work Programme for European standardisation for 2020. It identifies key strategic objectives for standardisation for the upcoming year. It includes, notably, the development of standardised migration limits for polycyclic-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), present in rubber and plastic material in consumer articles and restricted as carcinogens under REACH. The Commission's Joint Research Center (JRC) has been working on methods to limit their presence in consumer products. A Commission study on the economic and societal impact of standardisation is expected by 2021.
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