What’s new in health and safety?

 In news, updates

Danny Clarke outlines recent legislative and case law developments HR professionals should be aware of

According to the International Labour Organization, more than 7,600 people die each day from work-related accidents or diseases. Complying with health and safety legislation should be a priority for any business owner; failure to have the correct protections in place could result in injury or even loss of life, as well as imprisonment of the responsible parties.

Legislation is always changing, and it’s important to stay abreast of all the latest developments.

The Ionising Radiation Regulations 2017 came into effect on 1 Jan 2018. These relate to any organisations that use X-ray equipment, such as hospitals and dental or veterinary practices, and cover how employers should notify the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that they work with ionising radiation, as well as introducing much stricter annual exposure limits for employees.

In February, the Supreme Court ruling in HM Inspector of Health and Safety v Chevron North Sea Ltd offered clarity on how businesses respond to prohibition notices. The decision means organisations can now launch an appeal against a notice if they are confident they can gather the evidence needed to show that there is no serious risk of personal injury, even if this evidence is not available at the time the appeal against the notice is issued. Filing an appeal means a postponement in the posting of the prohibition notice on the HSE’s public database pending the outcome of the appeal.

ISO 45001:2018, a new International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) regulation, has just been published, placing much greater obligations on businesses to demonstrate that they are complying with best practice when it comes to health and safety and the policies they have in place. While an ISO is not a mandatory legal requirement, it is designed as a management tool for organisations that are looking to eliminate or minimise the risk of harm, and should be taken as best practice.

New PPE regulation changes will be enforceable from April 2018 placing greater onus on importers, distributors and retailers, who will share the responsibility for providing safe and effective products with manufacturers. This should mean that fewer lower specification and/or counterfeit goods enter the market, which can only be a good thing when it comes to ensuring the health and safety of UK workers.

Sentencing

We’re also keeping an eye out for the recommendations of the Sentencing Council following a consultation regarding sentencing guidelines for manslaughter convictions. There has been a marked increase in recent years in the number of individuals prosecuted for health and safety offences and gross negligence manslaughter cases. We’ve also seen a trend towards significant increases in the consequences faced by both businesses and employees who get compliance wrong.

Since the new sentencing guidelines were introduced in 2016, an unprecedented number of sanctions and fines have been issued for breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Non-fatal cases, which would have previously been dealt with in a magistrates’ court, are now receiving fines in excess of £1m. In 2016, security firm G4S was fined £1.8m after an employee contracted Legionnaires’ disease. While there was no evidence that the employee had contracted the disease on G4S premises, health inspectors found that the firm had failed to safely maintain its water systems at the site.

Just last month, Tata Steel was prosecuted after a maintenance engineer was fatally crushed, despite two previous incidents at the same plant. The company pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act and was fined £1.4m and ordered to pay £140,000 costs. The number of prosecutions has increased exponentially since the new sentencing guidelines were introduced, and it appears likely this trend will continue.

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