What made you first get into the health & safety sector of law?

I was fortunate enough to be heavily involved in regulatory work within my traineeship and because I enjoyed the work so much, it seemed natural to continue to develop my expertise in this area. I have always been interested in health and safety work as it draws on different specialisms - for example, arising from one incident you might be dealing with potential criminal proceedings, a civil claim and a fatal accident inquiry.

What aspects of the job do you enjoy the most?

The work is often varied, rarely straight forward and is challenging but interesting. There is frequently a cross over between various areas of law and you get an insight into many different industries such as oil and gas, construction and agriculture. No two days are the same and in the past I have been involved in actions where I have had to learn all about welding, racing cars, recycling and waste collection, and roofing - to name only a few!

We provide training to clients which is a great opportunity to meet our clients face to face and actively discuss how we might provide advice tailored to their specific needs. We also offer interactive mock trials which give clients a deeper insight into court procedure (whilst also allowing us an opportunity to demonstrate our "impressive" acting skills!)

What do you think are the main challenges clients face in a H&S context?

An employer's primary concern when it comes to H&S should, of course, be protecting people from injury - and lots of businesses know how to do that, and do it well. However, clients also want to protect their business as much as possible if a serious incident does occur. The impact of a serious incident on a business can be significant and there may be implications (financial or otherwise) which clients may not have thought of. The importance of understanding how best to protect your business if anything happens and the implications if something does, can't be underestimated.

In terms of the financial side, H&S fines are on the increase following the implementation of sentencing guidelines for health and safety breaches in England and Wales. Although those have not yet been implemented in Scotland, they carry considerable weight within the Scottish courts. There are also plans afoot in Scotland to introduce a victim surcharge which will be payable in addition to any fine (with the currently proposed levels amounting to more than the equivalent in England and Wales).

The Health & Safety Executive can also charge a fee for investigating a material breach and the level of that fee can run to thousands of pounds. It's important to know that fines and fees for intervention cannot be insured against.

There is also the potential for a compensation claim or claims arising from an incident and whilst a business will hopefully be insured for this, there may be a significant excess to pay, an increase in premiums as a result, and/or lost time in dealing with the claim and any subsequent court action.

A poor health and safety history might also impact on a business's ability to secure work in the future as lots of tenders and contracts require this to be disclosed. Of course, there may also be media attention which might affect their reputation.

To help address the above, the team at Brodies have developed a Health & Safety app. It provides a step by step checklist for businesses based on common scenarios we might usually advise on in the initial stages following an accident, for example, providing instructions to staff and having procedures in place to deal with potential press and media.

What attributes make a good H&S lawyer?

I think you need to have a cool head in unexpected or demanding situations, particularly after a major incident in order to be able to fully support your client. As I mentioned before, being able to see the bigger picture and think ahead is important. You need to be able to understand your client's business which means listening first and then asking the right questions. Having good communication skills also comes in handy when dealing with regulatory bodies such as the HSE, police and the COPFS.


Emma Dyson