In a recent update, we explained that the HSE will be robust in investigating and prosecuting suspected health & safety breaches, highlighting that individuals as well as organisations can expect to find themselves being prosecuted for such breaches.

Three recent UK health & safety prosecutions demonstrate that individuals as well as organisations can find themselves under investigation and facing prosecution.

First, in January 2024, a scaffolding company was fined £50,000 after one of its workers suffered an electric shock while erecting a temporary roof structure at a property. The company accepted a breach of section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 for failing to suitably and sufficiently risk assess the roof structure works bearing in mind the proximity to a high voltage power line.

In addition to the prosecution of the company, a company director was prosecuted for an individual breach of health and safety legislation. It was noted by HSE that the director made no attempt to consult the network operator about line voltage and safe clearance distances. The director accepted a breach of section 37(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (the 'consent, connivance or neglect' offence), and was sentenced to 18 weeks' imprisonment (suspended for 12 months) and ordered to undertake 200 hours unpaid work. This was an English case, and if prosecuted in Scotland a 'suspended sentence' is not a sentencing option where imprisonment is on the mind of the sentencing judge.

Second, in December 2023, a roofing company was fine £881,000 after two workers were seriously injured during separate fall from height incidents. In both cases, workers fell through roofs in circumstances where the company had failed to (1) properly plan and carry out works on skylights and (2) suitably and sufficiently risk asses the works.

A director of the roofing company was also prosecuted for failing to (1) ensure staff had appropriate skills, knowledge and experience and (2) provide appropriate fall protection on the roof. He pled guilty to breaching regulation 4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and was sentenced to 120 hours of unpaid community service. Following the case, HSE said: "HSE will not hesitate to take action against employers who do not do all that they should to keep people safe".

Third and again in December 2023, a company was prosecuted in circumstances where an employee fell during the supply of fascia boards and soffits at a school. HSE's investigation concluded that there had been insufficient planning of the work at height. A safe platform from which to work, such as a properly erected scaffold, should have been provided. HSE noted that: "Ladders should only be used for access or, where it is not reasonably practicable to provide safer working platforms, for short-term work of up to 30 minutes where workers can normally maintain three points of contact."

The company received a small fine albeit given its financial position there was a serious risk it may shut down operations. The sentencing judge said: "Because of the financial penalty, the company may end up being wound up completely; but that is a consequence of the conviction." This serves as a timely reminder that while a financial penalty should not normally be such as to bring a company 'to its knees', in some cases it may well be appropriate given the severity of the breach.

In addition to the prosecution of the company, its director was also prosecuted for breaching regulation 4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. He was sentenced to 180 hours of unpaid work.

Key messages

  • These three cases confirm that HSE continues to robustly investigate suspected health & safety breaches.
  • There is a clear appetite to prosecute both individuals and organisations.
  • The consequences of a prosecution and conviction can be significant, both at a corporate and individual level.
  • Senior management should therefore take steps to implement and maintain effective health & safety compliance procedures and ensure they are fulfilling their own health and safety responsibilities.

Contributors

Ramsay Hall

Legal Director

Clare Bone

Partner & Solicitor Advocate