• 01616 966 229
  • Request a callback
Stephensons Solicitors LLP Banner Image

News and Events

Do I need a solicitor if my business is under investigation by the Health and Safety Executive?

  • Posted
A guide to disciplinary proceedings within the accountancy profession

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the national regulator responsible for the regulation and enforcement of workplace health, safety and welfare. All businesses are subject to scrutiny from the HSE including sole traders, SMEs, limited companies and PLCs.

The HSE has recently published its annual statistics for health and safety at work in Great Britain. The statistics in relation to workplace injury and ill health for 2016/2017 are:-

  • 1.3 million of working people suffer from a work-related illness
  • 2,542 mesothelioma deaths due to asbestos exposure
  • 137 workers killed at work
  • 70,116 injuries to employees reported under Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR)

Further statistics highlight the injury rates are statistically significant in the following high risk industries:-

  • Accommodation and food services
  • Agriculture, forestry and fishing
  • Construction
  • Transport and storage
  • Wholesale and retail trade

The statistics collated in relation to enforcement action taken by the HSE for 2016/2017 reveal:-

  • 11,913 notices were issued
  • 554 cases prosecuted resulted in a conviction
  • £69.9 million issued in fines resulting from prosecutions where a conviction was achieved

In cases where there has been a work place injury or fatality, the HSE will launch an investigation to identify whether there have been any breaches of relevant health and safety law. Improvement notices are issued when HSE Inspectors believe there is a breach in health and law in a way that poses a risk to people. A business is given the opportunity to take remedial steps within a specified time period, usually of 21 days. If HSE Inspectors believe work activities give rise to a risk of serious personal injury, they may issue a prohibition notice. The prohibition notice requires a business to stop that activity immediately until appropriate steps are taken to reduce or control the risks associated with that activity.  

The number of notices issued by the HSE rose this year following several years of a downward trend. The issuing of a notice may have a serious impact on the way your business operates. A specialist health and safety solicitor will be able to advise you in respect of notices that have been issued by the HSE. 

During an investigation into a work place injury of fatality, the HSE may conduct interviews under caution to ascertain who may be responsible for any suspected breaches of health and safety regulations. If you are a business owner, director, manager or employee invited to attend an interview under caution it is vital you seek representation from a specialist health and safety solicitor who will be able to advise you in order to best protect your legal interests at interview.

If following an investigation the HSE identify serious breaches of health and safety regulations, the HSE may pursue enforcement action in the criminal courts. In February 2016, new sentencing guidelines for health and safety, corporate manslaughter and food safety came into force. The level of fine issued against businesses for health and safety breaches is directly related to that organisation’s turnover. As a result of the new sentencing guidelines, organisations convicted of offences are now receiving larger fines than previously seen before.

Furthermore, the Sentencing Council intends to introduce sentencing guidelines in cases involving unlawful deaths. The Sentencing Council ended a consultation in October 2017 on a proposed court guideline for offences including gross negligence manslaughter. Gross negligence manslaughter is an offence whereby the offender fatally breaches a duty of care towards the victim. These charges are usually brought against individuals such as business owners, directors or managers who are alleged to have disregarded employee safety. 

The Sentencing Council’s analysis of 16 offenders sentenced for gross negligence manslaughter in 2014 found their custodial sentences ranged from nine months to 12 years with a median sentence length of four years. The proposed guidelines provide a new maximum prison sentence of 18 years. It is anticipated these guidelines will result in a steady rise in the length of prison sentences imposed against individuals convicted for gross negligence manslaughter offences. 

It is vital you seek representation from a specialist health and safety solicitor if the HSE issue criminal proceedings against you or your business. This is especially the case given the growing trend for more punitive sentences against organisations and individuals for breaches of health and safety regulations and unlawful deaths. 

If you are a business owner or individual under investigation or facing prosecution by the HSE, it is vital you seek specialist advice. Our team at Stephensons has expertise in all areas pertaining to health and safety and regulatory defence, call us now on 01616 966 229.