It is a criminal offence to breach any of the duties as outlined in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Regulations state that a company or individual, including employees as well as employers, have a duty of care in the workplace and all individuals must comply with the law in relation to Health and Safety. Both individuals and companies can therefore be prosecuted under Health and Safety legislation.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is more commonly the organisation who investigates and prosecutes breaches of Health and Safety Regulations; however, depending on the alleged offence there are other authorities such as Local Authorities who have the jurisdiction to prosecute.
The HSE may send a letter or Notice in respect of an alleged breach. In this situation instructing a legal representative to respond on your behalf may be beneficial in preventing any further action being taken. The HSE may also invite you to attend an interview voluntarily under caution and ask you questions in respect of any alleged breaches. If you are asked or required to attend an interview it is essential that you instruct a legal representative to advise you on the best course of action to take at this stage.
Many Health and Safety offences proceed to the criminal courts and can range from summary only offences for minor breaches, which are dealt with in the Magistrates Court, to either way offences which cover most Health and Safety offences. The either way offences may involve serious injury and can be dealt with in the Magistrates Court or the Crown Court. Indictable only offences, such as gross negligence manslaughter, are heard in the Crown Court only.
Since 1st February 2016 there has been a new structured approach to sentencing in respect of breaching Health and Safety legislation. This change has resulted in the courts imposing large fines for organisations and custodial sentences have been imposed for individuals. Therefore, it is important that you seek legal advice should you or your company be contacted in respect of possible Health and Safety breaches.
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