The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) recently published its annual statistics covering Health and Safety at Work in the UK 2019. These statistics show a 70% increase in the number of fatal accidents occurring in Scotland, against an overall down turn in recent years across the UK.
Perhaps such statistics go some way to explain the calls for new legislation which would bring in harsher penalties for those convicted and likely also see a spike in the number of individuals being held accountable for health and safety breaches.
Does Scotland have a problem with health and safety?
Historically, the proportionately higher number of work-related injuries in Scotland has been explained by pointing to a disproportionate volume of agricultural, oil and gas and other industries deemed to be "high risk".
It has also been suggested that the attitudes of those working in certain industries (such as agriculture) towards health and safety are lagging behind the times, with a failure to update working practices to bring them in line with other industries and expected health and safety standards.
Ignorance is no defence
These days, however, health and safety features highly on most agendas and is not something that a responsible employer would pretend to be unaware of. Significant changes in legislative and judicial approaches to health and safety breaches have seen (i) the levels of fine increasing significantly, (ii) private businesses being charged by HSE for investigation of incidents and, as recently as last month, (iii) the introduction of the Victim Surcharge Fund in Scotland adding another layer of penalty imposed on those convicted of health and safety breaches. Click here to read my recent blog on the topic.
Proposed Culpable Homicide (Scotland) Bill 2019
The legislative advance against poor health and safety practices could soon take another significant step forward. Earlier this year, a consultation was held on a proposed Bill in the Scottish parliament: the proposed Culpable Homicide (Scotland) Bill 2019.
The proposals will in effect create two different statutory offences of culpable homicide: culpable homicide by causing death recklessly and culpable homicide by causing death by gross negligence. These offences would be in addition to, and not in substitution for, the existing crimes of culpable homicide in common law (the law built up by the courts).
66% of those who responded to the consultation document on the proposed Bill were private citizens. The main reasons given for supporting the proposals were they provided clarity and addressed shortcomings in the existing legislation which, they say, have allowed individuals (supervisors or managers) at more junior positions within businesses to avoid being held accountable for their involvement in incidents.
The principle of deterrence was raised in many responses and arguments were made that the proposed Bill would result in improvements to health and safety practices.
A new era for Health and Safety in Scotland?
If the Bill is successfully passed into legislation it could signify a new era for health and safety in Scotland as it is anticipated that it would result in more prosecutions of individuals and corporate bodies with even greater serious consequences, if convicted.