Unlimited Fines and Prison Sentences – What Happens If You Break Health & Safety Laws?

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How well do you know UK health and safety laws? Are they ingrained into every process of your business, or are they relegated to a few tatty posters?

No matter what your business is, from agriculture to retail, hospitality to manufacturing and everything in between – health and safety matters. 

When you break health and safety laws, there can be some hefty repercussions, including unlimited fines and prison sentences. That’s some pretty serious stuff. Could you afford to lose your business or perhaps your freedom?

In this blog, we’ll explain exactly what happens if you’re found in breach of health and safety regulations.

Health And Safety At Work: UK Law

As a business owner, it’s your responsibility to ensure the health, safety and welfare of your employees and everyone who comes into contact with your business, such as the public and sub-contractors.

As well as being your responsibility, health and safety at work is also the law.

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act (1974)

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act (1974) is the key legislation governing health and safety in the UK. It outlines what you must do to keep your workplace safe, healthy and compliant. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) regulates its implementation and adherence, as well as local authorities.

Getting health and safety right doesn’t need to be complicated. As long as you use the following steps, your workforce’s compliance and safety should be easy to achieve…

Assess Risk – identify areas of work that could cause harm and take action to control and minimise the risk.

Provide Information About Risks – let your employees know the risks and how they’re protected, and provide training and protocols on performing hazardous tasks.

Consult Employees – whether directly or through a health and safety representative, discuss health and safety issues directly with your employees.

Act On Reports – if an employee reports a health and safety incident to you, act on it and make changes. Some incidents also need to be reported to the HSE for further investigation.

The Importance Of Compliance With Health and Safety

Health and safety in the workplace is everyone’s responsibility, but as the employer, the main accountability lies with you.

Why do you need to get health and safety right?

Let’s be blunt – health and safety saves lives. 

Whatever industry, job role or tasks your employees are involved with, everything carries risk. Even the roles considered ‘safe’. A kitchen porter is just as likely as a chef to slip on a spillage, burn themselves on a hotplate or get exposed to hazardous cleaning chemicals.

Implementing health and safety effectively takes effort and is an ongoing strategy, but it’s essential to get it right to keep people safe from harm. Risk assessments, policies and procedures, training, first aid and mental health first aid, and accident reporting all help reduce the risks of getting health and safety wrong.

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What Could Happen If You Get Health and Safety Wrong?

If you choose to ignore your health and safety responsibilities and things go wrong, you and your business could face some serious consequences.

unlimited fines and prison

Unlimited Fines

Could your business afford to pay out an unlimited sum should the worst happen?

It used to be that fines were capped; £5,000 for a breach of regulations and £20,000 for health and safety offences, but that’s not the case anymore.

Since 2015, magistrates have been able to impose unlimited fines for breaches of health and safety laws. Before, the fine might not have matched the severity of the offence, but these days it can.

In 2022, some of the most significant health and safety prosecutions included…

  • B&M – fined £1m after an electrician suffered severe burns during a warehouse explosion.
  • Carlsberg – fined £3m after a contractor died and another was seriously injured because of an ammonia leak at one of its breweries.
  • Sainsbury’s – fined £1m after a customer suffered life-changing facial injuries after their mobility scooter ran into twine tied between bollards.

What was the highest fine of 2022?

Northern Gas received a fine of £5m plus costs of £91k after a lady died in a fire and gas explosion at a residential property in Yorkshire.

Prison Sentences

If you’re found guilty of breaking health and safety laws, you could end up in prison.

There are two ways you can now face prosecution;

  • Corporate Manslaughter – when death has occurred because of serious management failures resulting in a gross breach of duty of care.

Only last month, two directors of a metal recycling company in Birmingham received 9-month jail sentences after a wall collapsed on six workers, killing five.

  • Gross Negligence – when injury or death has occurred because of failure to carry out an obligation or skill correctly, or at all, showing indifference or disregard for risk.

Last year, a husband and wife team were sentenced to 13 years and 20 months, respectively, after two farm workers drowned after being overcome by fumes while cleaning out a semi-liquid pig feed tanker.

Whilst sentences are rare, authorities WILL investigate accidents and identify any health and safety requirements breaches.

unlimited fines

The Consequences Of Breaking Health and Safety Laws

By far, the most serious consequence when you neglect to fulfil your health and safety obligations is the death of someone under your duty of care. Even injuries can be life-changing.

Some other consequences for you and your business include…

  • Financial – with magistrates able to impose unlimited fines, some issued have been more than the annual profits of a company.
  • Reputation – even if a fine doesn’t put you out of business, damage to your reputation might.
  • Personal – the guilt of being responsible for the injury or death of someone is a lifelong burden.

Your responsibility for health and safety should never be underestimated, and compliance with laws, regulations and guidance is essential to keep people safe from harm.

At Envesca, we know that as a business owner, you’ve got a lot on your plate, and it’s easy for your health and safety compliance to slip.

To keep things on track, our Safeguard T100 Compliance Software can help to make it easy to understand and meet your health and safety requirements. You can read all about it here…

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