Department for Work and Pensions
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Ministers welcome tougher penalties for health and safety law breakers

Ministers welcome tougher penalties for health and safety law breakers

DEPARTMENT FOR WORK AND PENSIONS News Release (HSE106) issued by COI News Distribution Service. 17 October 2008

New legislation, the Health and Safety Offences Act 2008, which will increase penalties and provide courts with greater sentencing powers for those who flout health and safety legislation has been welcomed by DWP Ministers.

The Act raises the maximum penalties that can be imposed for breaching health and safety regulations in the lower courts from £5,000 to £20,000 and the range of offences for which an individual can be imprisoned has also been broadened.

DWP Minister Lord McKenzie said:

"It is generally accepted that the level of fines for some health and safety offences is too low. These changes will ensure that sentences can now be more easily set at a level to deter businesses that do not take their health and safety management responsibilities seriously and further encourage employers and others to comply with the law.

"Furthermore, by extending the £20,000 maximum fine to the lower courts and making imprisonment an option, more cases will be resolved in the lower courts and justice will be faster, less costly and more efficient.

"Jail sentences for particularly blameworthy health and safety offences committed by individuals, can now be imposed reflecting the severity of such crimes, whereas there were more limited options in the past.

"I am delighted that this legislation is now on the statute book and very grateful to my colleagues Keith Hill MP and Lord Bruce Grocott for introducing the Bill and for the support received from all sides of both Houses of Parliament."

The Act amends Section 33 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, and raises the maximum penalties available to the courts in respect of certain health and safety offences. It received Royal Assent on 16 October 2008 and will come into force in three months time, in January 2009

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Media Enquiries: John Stevenson 0203 267 5126
DWP Press Office: 0203 267 5144
Out of hours: 07659 108 883
Website: http://www.dwp.gov.uk

Notes to editors

1. Increasing penalties and providing the Courts with greater sentencing powers has been Government and Health and Safety Executive (HSE) policy since the publication of the Revitalising Health and Safety Strategy Statement in June 2000 (Action Point 7).

2. The Health and Safety Offences Act 2008 was introduced as a Private Members Bill and piloted through the House of Commons by the Rt Hon Keith Hill MP and by the Rt Hon Lord Bruce Grocott in the House of Lords.

3. The effect of the Act is to:

a) raise the maximum fine which may be imposed in the lower courts to £20,000 for most health and safety offences;
b) make imprisonment an option for more health and safety offences in both the lower and higher courts;
c) make certain offences, which are currently triable only in the lower courts, triable in either the lower or higher courts.

4. Details of the Act's changes are as follows:

Summary of current and new penalties under the Act

Current maxima:

* £5k or £20k for summary offence in lower courts, depending on offence; unlimited fine for indictable offence;

* imprisonment not available for most offences (but up to 6 months in magistrates court / 2 years in Crown Court for few offences eg failing to comply with a prohibition notice or breaching a licensing requirement).
New maxima:

* £20k fines in lower courts for nearly all summary offences, unlimited fines in higher courts;

* Imprisonment for nearly all offences - up to 12 months1 in Magistrates Courts and 2 years in the Crown Court.

5. The Act, which covers Great Britain and Northern Ireland, will come into force in January 2009.

6. There are strict guidelines which are observed by the regulators in their approach to the prosecution of health and safety offences.. The HSE Enforcement Policy Statement. makes it clear that prosecutions should be in the public interest and where one or more of a list of circumstances apply. These include:

* where, death was a result of a breach of the legislation;
* there has been reckless disregard of health and safety requirements;
* there have been repeated breaches which give rise to significant risk, or persistent and significant poor compliance; or
* false information has been supplied wilfully, or there has been intent to deceive in relation to a matter which gives rise to significant risk.

7. Prosecutions of individuals by health and safety regulators are not undertaken lightly. Any prosecutions of individuals are subject to the same strict considerations set out above and are only taken if warranted, and not in lieu of a case against their employer.

DWP Press Office: 0203 267 5144
Website: http://www.dwp.gov.uk

1 To be read as a reference to a term not exceeding 6 months until the coming into force of section 154(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. At present, there are no Government plans to "switch on" this clause.
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