27/02/2012

Government crack down on accidents and deaths in the workplace

The Health and Safety Executive (“HSE”) has announced that it is to mount a crack down on construction companies between 20 February and 16 March in a bid to improve health and safety failings and reduce accidents and deaths in the work place.

Those businesses whose operations focus on refurbishment or repair work will be specifically targeted but the message from the HSE is clear that companies should get their health and safety house in order.

There have been a significant number of prosecutions brought by the HSE over recent months for a range of offences but there has been a noticeable increase in the number of injuries and deaths resulting from working at height, and the sustaining of life changing injuries as a consequence of guards missing from machinery.

During 2010 / 11 there were 50 reported deaths in the work place (a 16% increase on the previous year) and 2298 major injuries reported.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 places obligations on employers to ensure the health and safety of employees and those other people who could be affected by their operations. Any failure to ensure safe working practices and that policies and procedures are in place could result in criminal proceedings being brought against the company and/or senior individuals. Further, the HSE has wide powers to intervene where it considers there to be possible breaches of health and safety law including the power to issue Prohibition Notices which prevent the company from carrying on business unless and until specific improvements or changes to working practices are made. The penalties following prosecution can also be tough. In 2011 several directors were handed sentences of suspended imprisonment; disqualification from being a director; and companies being required to pay substantial fines.

This latest crack down reflects the increasing concern that serious health and safety failings are occurring as a result of short cuts being taken in a bid to save money together with increasing demands being made on employees because of the economic down turn. Businesses should always be wise to the costs that serious failings can have because they are not merely financial.