Health and safety in the workplace – why it’s important
Health and Safety has an image problem – it’s often portrayed as a burden on businesses, with oppressive regulations that have little to do with common sense. Some businesses, having swallowed that perception, feel that they don’t have to follow safety rules, or even look for ways of cutting corners, putting profit ahead of people.
They couldn’t be more wrong.
There are a great many reasons for taking health and safety seriously – from the moral aspect, ensuring that workers go home safely at the end of the day, through the productivity argument – lost time through injuries reduces business efficiency and turnover, to the benefits for staff recruitment and retention as workers look for employers who are committed to ensuring their safety.
One of the big arguments for complying with health and safety law is the very serious consequences of a breach of the rules. Many smaller businesses may not have the resources to employ a full-time health and safety specialist but their obligations remain the same and they should think very carefully before “going it alone” because a complete disregard or unsuitable and insufficient approach to safety procedures and policies can have far-reaching and costly consequences.
Our Business Crime and Regulation team has taken a look at recent fines and sentences for health and safety breaches to see just how bad it can get if you ignore your legal obligations to keep people safe in the workplace.
1) Exolum Pipeline System Ltd - £2.3m
On 24th March 2023, Exolum Pipeline System Ltd were fined £2.3m and ordered to pay more than £150,000 in costs after workers were put at risk of serious injury or death while working on a leaking pipeline containing petrol under pressure. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the company had failed to properly identify and control the risks associated with carrying out the pipeline repair; an HSE Inspector stated after the conviction that “Companies should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards.”
2) Asbestos Boss Limited - Daniel Cockcroft – Prison sentence
On 10th March 2023, Asbestos Boss Limited, an asbestos removal company, was convicted and its director (Daniel Luke Cockcroft) given a prison sentence of 6 months and ordered to pay victim compensation, after it emerged that they had never held a licence and their poor working practices resulted in the large scale spread of asbestos and exposure to homeowners and their families.
3) SOS Express Plumbing - Christopher Shaw – Prison sentence
On 9th February 2023, Christopher Roland Shaw a plumber trading as SOS Express Plumbing, was jailed for 16 months after carrying out illegal gas work that cost an elderly woman over £1,000. An HSE investigation had found Mr Shaw was not registered with the Gas Safety Register (GSR) and when his work at the woman’s home was subsequently investigated by GSR, it identified several issues, some of which were deemed as ‘at risk,’ meaning they could be a danger to life or the property in the future.
4) Kier Infrastructure and Overseas Limited - £4.4m
On 12th January 2023, civil engineering firm Kier was fined £4.415m and ordered to pay costs of £87,759.60 after its workers twice struck overhead powerlines while working on the M6 motorway causing cables to land in the path of passing vehicles.
5) A.C.E Plumbing and Heating - Peter Read – Prison sentence
On 2nd December 2022, Peter Read a plumbing and heating engineer who traded as A.C.E Plumbing and Heating, was jailed for 20 weeks after carrying out illegal gas work.
6) Cleveland Potash Limited - £3.6m
In August 2022, Cleveland Potash Ltd, the owners of Boulby Mine in Saltburn-by-the-Sea were fined £3.6 million and ordered to pay costs of £185,000 after an investigation by the HSE following two incidents in which contract electricians received serious burns from electrical systems. The HSE found deficiencies in terms of risk assessments and planning of works as well as shortfalls with regards to warnings about which parts of the electrical systems the two electricians were working on remained live. The sentencing judge noted that it was a “matter of chance” that there had been no fatalities.
7) Northern Gas Networks Ltd - £5m
In February 2022, following a fatal fire and gas explosion, Northern Gas Networks Ltd were found to have breached health and safety regulations and were fined £5 million, with an additional £91,487 in costs.
Health and safety should be a priority for every business. If you need advice and guidance on how to draft and implement safety policies and procedures for your business, please do contact our Business Crime and Regulation team, who have considerable experience of how the laws on safety can affect businesses.