Health & Safety cost-cutting increases risk of inspection and potential prosecution

Peninsula Team

November 04 2014

In 2010 an employee of Aztec BA Ltd, a Hampshire foundry, was crushed and killed when a two-tonne metal sand-moulding box fell from the lifting chains of a crane. At the end of August, after a long investigation, Winchester Crown Court heard cases against the company, a director and another person who was acting as a director whilst disqualified from being a company director.Paul O’Boyle, 56, of Cholderton Road, Andover, was jailed for a total of 26 months; 16 months for a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974; ten months for a breach of the Fraud Act 2006; and a total of eight months concurrent for four breaches of Section 13 of the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986. He was also disqualified from being a company director for the maximum of 15 years. Russell Lee, 67, of Quay 2000, Horseshoe Bridge, Southampton, was given a 12-month prison sentence suspended for two years after admitting the same breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act and a concurrent six months, also suspended, after pleading guilty to aiding and abetting O’Boyle in his disqualification. He also received a 7 year disqualification from acting as a director, was ordered to pay £8,000 toward prosecution costs and given 150 hours’ community service. Aztech BA Ltd entered a guilty plea for a breach of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act and received a fine of £100,000. These cases against the two ‘directors’ of the company reflect an increasing trend by the enforcing authorities towards the prosecution of individuals and directors. This probably reflects government policy that businesses that create and fail to manage risk should not be at an advantage over those who comply with their legal requirements.Businesses that see health and safety as an area for cost-cutting are at increasing risk of inspection; statistics show that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is acting on more tip-offs than ever before. Figures show that to the end of March 2014, 4,097 inspections were carried out as a result of information from the public and whistle-blowers; an 18 per cent increase on the previous year. Where the HSE decides that cost-cutting was a significant reason for or factor behind the breach of health and safety regulations, they will look to prosecute senior management. All directors and senior managers need to be aware of their health and safety obligations and ensure that they are carrying them out fully if they want to avoid the risk of prosecution.Despite a reduction in funding the HSE has prioritised its available resource to make it very active in responding to reports of accidents and tip-offs about businesses breaching regulations. Failing to comply with health and safety regulations in an attempt to cut or reduce costs could be a false economy. After the event it is too late to think about the legal, moral, and contractual duties under health and safety law owed by individuals and companies to colleagues and employees. Peninsula BusinessSafe clients are provided with a health and safety management system and consultancy advice that will enable them to understand and comply with their obligations. They should follow that advice and instigate change wherever and whenever it is required. If they are unsure of their health and safety responsibilities or action to take in a particular situation a call to our 24 Hour Advice Service on 0844 892 2785.  

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