27/01/2012

Safety, Health & Environment e-Brief – Be safe not sorry

There have been four prosecutions by the Health and Safety Executive in as many days where Courts have heard that the removal of safety equipment has resulted in employees sustaining injuries.

The prosecutions in Buckinghamshire, Worcester, Nottingham and Corby between 17-20 January 2012, were brought after guards on equipment had either been removed, or had never been installed. In one case, the failure to have the guards in place resulted in an employee losing three fingers. In another case an employee received life changing burns. The companies involved were fined and ordered to pay costs.

This sudden increase in enforcement action demonstrates that neither companies nor employees are paying enough attention to basic safety issues. All the companies involved have since fitted guards.

Not being compliant with health and safety regulation can have dire consequences for businesses of all sizes due to the wide ranging powers and penalties that the Health and Safety Executive and Courts can impose. Not only will the companies involved in the recent prosecutions face closer scrutiny by the Health and Safety Executive for the foreseeable future, together with increased insurance premiums as a result of the inevitable personal injury claims, they will also have to carry the burden of a criminal conviction with directors risking their position and, in some instances, liberty.

Courts are increasingly unimpressed with the lack of attention shown by some companies to basic health and safety and, although the Government is seeking to simplify health and safety legislation in the future, it is almost certain that those changes will not affect the underlying duty of care businesses have to their employees.

The Health and Safety at Work Act enshrines the responsibility that employers have to ensure safe working practices for their employees. The removal of guards on the machinery in these cases may have been down to error by individual employees. However, inadequacies in training and policies and procedures are seen as fundamental to the liability of businesses so all employers should ensure that their health and safety house is in order.

Gordons Regulatory team is on hand 24 hours a day to offer assistance and advice in case of an accident. Protecting the legal position of the company from the start is essential in the management of regulatory investigations.