The Health and Safety Executive ("HSE") is the national regulator for workplace health and safety.
Interestingly, on its website, there is a page for debunking health and safety myths (click here), such as the one where flags were banned from civic cars for “health and safety”, or the removal of alcohol from a workplace Christmas party.
So, what do they do?
The HSE “mission” is to prevent work-related death, injury and ill-health. They concentrate on the most serious risks, targeting industries with the greatest hazards and sectors with the worst risk management records. They provide free guidance and advice, inspect premises and investigate when things go wrong.
What powers do they have?
They can inspect premises, speak to relevant people, observe workplace activities, check whether risk controls are effective and identify any breaches. In doing so, they can consider taking enforcement action and investigate any potential offences.
What is enforcement action?
They can provide advice, serve notices, withdraw approval or vary licences, conditions or exemptions. More seriously they can issue cautions or prosecute. If you do breach any regulations you can be made to pay for the time it takes the HSE to help you to put the breach right.
The HSE will investigate serious work-related incidents, injuries or cases of ill-health, in line with its incident selection criteria, as they do not investigate everything that is reported to them. Cases can be brought against corporate bodies and in some cases individuals as well.
What sentence could you get?
There aren’t any specific sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences other than corporate manslaughter although they are likely to come under general offence guidelines that are currently being consulted upon.
Air Liquide (UK) Ltd was fined £160,000 after pleading guilty to breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. Members of their emergency response team were appropriately dressed to dispose of redundant gas bottles; however, one was dropped spilling highly hazardous fluid to the floor. Vapour drifted to 2 unprotected workers affecting one so severely he collapsed to the floor.
Bartram Manufacturing Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £82,000. A forklift truck reversed into a stack of roof trusses which fell onto an employee causing multiple fractures.
WE Rawson Ltd was fined £600,000 for breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. An employee died following crush injuries received when he attempted to free a stuck package from a packaging machine. The HSE found the company failed to take measures to prevent access to the danger zone between the moving conveyers.
Simon Thomerson of Clearview Design and Construction Ltd was jailed for eight months following the death of two labourers employed by him when they were involved in an explosive fire within a work unit. He pleaded guilty to breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.
How can I help?
Even though a case may be investigated by the HSE rather than the police, you can still be under investigation for criminal offences that can lead to imprisonment or very substantial fines for companies.