What is the Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008? I run a small contracting business. Does this legislation affect me?

Yes. The Act came into force on 16 January 2009 and amends section 33 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. It applies to businesses and individuals operating in Great Britain or Northern Ireland.

Basically, the new law increases penalties and provides the courts with greater sentencing powers for those flouting health and safety legislation. In short, break the law and it will cost you more. You could even end up in prison for health and safety offences.

Under the Act, if you find yourself in the lower (magistrates) court for breaching health and safety regulations, it could cost you up to £20,000. Previously the maximum fine was £5,000. The range of offences for which an individual person can be imprisoned has also been increased in both the lower and higher courts.

Thirdly, certain offences that used to be dealt with only by the lower courts can now be heard in either the lower or higher courts. These offences include contravening any requirement imposed by an inspector and preventing a person from appearing before an inspector or answering their questions.

Prior to the legislation, many thought the fines for some health and safety offences were too lenient. The Act means sentences can be set at a level that should deter businesses from shirking health and safety management responsibilities. It should encourage everyone to comply with the law.

There is nothing to fear from the new law unless you cut corners, put lives at risk or gain commercial advantage over competitors by failing to comply with it. The new legislation imposes no new duties on employers or businesses, and the Health & Safety Executive is not changing its approach to how it enforces health and safety law.


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