Health and safety is often the butt of jokes, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that it is something that doesn’t need to be taken seriously. As a business owner, any breaches of health and safety law can have serious consequences for the future of your business, your reputation and even your criminal record.
Responsibilities of businesses for health and safety
All businesses have a responsibility to protect the health and safety of their employees and the public, under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, the primary piece of legislation covering occupational health and safety in Britain. This Act sets out the general duties which employers have towards employees and members of the public, and employees have to themselves and to each other.
When an accident occurs in the workplace, or a concern is raised by workers, the public or others, it can be investigated by a government agency known as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Detailed guidance on health and safety requirements can be found on the HSE website.
What to expect during a health and safety investigation
Not all reports made to the HSE will be investigated – usually only the most serious work-related incidents or injuries. An investigation may range from an enquiry by a single inspector about a minor incident or complaint to a large enquiry involving a team of inspectors. Other agencies may be involved, for example the police where there has been a work-related death.
During an investigation, HSE investigators will thoroughly scrutinise every aspect of your operating procedures. This means that even where no fault is found in relation to the initial accident, the HSE will often find other matters of concern.
Generally speaking, it is wise to cooperate with HSE officers – all records should be provided, and access granted to all areas of the business. However, no staff or management should agree to be interviewed under caution without a solicitor present, as doing so could risk liability for the business and individuals.
Potential outcomes of a health and safety investigation
If inspectors are satisfied that no health and safety breach has occurred, or that any breach has been rectified and that no harm has been caused, an investigation may end with no further action being taken.
However, if any serious problems are found or if serious harm has been caused as a result of a breach, the HSE may prosecute through the courts. Any prosecution can result in a significant fine, and in some cases, even a criminal conviction.
It is also important to bear in mind that once a health and safety prosecution is initiated by HSE, it is a matter of public record. As such, your company and the case may attract press attention, something which is common for health and safety prosecutions and may cause serious damage to your reputation.
How we can help during a health and safety investigation
At Regan Peggs Solicitors, we have extensive experience and an excellent track record in dealing with the HSE at all stages of their investigations. Should you find your business under investigation, we can help you in a number of ways:
- We can be present at any formal interviews with directors or members of staff.
- If some fault is found, we may be able to persuade the prosecutors to issue a caution rather than prosecute at court.
- If a prosecution is brought, we can provide you with a robust defence and deal with the extensive paperwork involved.
- Should your case attract press attention, we can help you to avoid adverse publicity and minimise reputational damage to your business.