Bosses in breach of health and safety rules could face prison

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    If the current economic woes facing most business leaders at present wasn't enough, the new Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008 should give rise to additional concern says law firm Hammonds LLP.

    The new law came into force on Friday (16 January 2009) and will broaden the penalties available to the Court when sentencing both companies and individuals for health and safety offences. The new measures will increase the maximum penalties that can be imposed in the Magistrates' Court for breach of health and safety regulations from £5,000 to £20,000, and also introduces the ability for the court to imprison directors and managers found guilty of serious breaches.

    The new Act follows the introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act, which came into force April last year.

    "In short, directors could face the prospect of being treated as criminals", commented Commercial and Dispute Resolution partner, Rob Elvin of Hammonds LLP. "Directors need to be aware of this, and consider taking specialist advice as to how this may impact upon their business, and whether they need to review their health and safety management systems. We have a dedicated health and safety team, that has been advising clients in this field for some time".

    As the law stood, individuals could only be imprisoned if found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter under existing criminal law, or, where they had contravened a prohibition/improvement notice or court order. Previously, under the Health and Safety at Work Act, directors or senior managers found guilty of health and safety offences could not be imprisoned. As of 16 January 2009, however, this is a very real possibility.

    Rob Elvin, partner in the Safety, Health and Environment Group at Hammonds explains: "The duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act will not in themselves change; therefore, all that the Prosecution will need to prove is that the individual is responsible for the offence committed by the company. Employees who are found guilty of not carrying out their work safely will also be at risk of imprisonment.

    "Given the new imprisonment sanctions for individuals, it follows that health and safety investigations will now involve greater scrutiny of the management chain, and the roles and duties of those in a position of responsibility".

    Rob Elvin concludes: "The Government is increasingly seeking to link health and safety liability to management accountability. So now more than ever it is imperative that business directors and management ensure that they have strict health and safety policies, procedures and training in place and that the safety of their workforce is paramount".

    -ends-

    For further information contact:

    Nicola Woodmass, Head of Communications, Hammonds, on 0121 222 3690 or email: nicola.woodmass@hammonds.com

    In May 2008, international law firm Hammonds became a limited liability partnership.  Hammonds LLP and its affiliated undertakings has offices in Birmingham, Leeds, London and Manchester in the UK, and in Berlin, Brussels, Beijing, Hong Kong, Madrid, Munich and Paris.

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