Health and safety legislation continues to place a significant burden on all companies, with employers potentially finding themselves liable for any harm caused on their premises.
The consequences of a health and safety investigation can be extremely serious, with the possibility of criminal charges, substantial fines or prison sentences in serious cases. If an incident happens in your workplace, you will find yourself in a situation that is complex and rapidly developing, and you will need to act quickly to protect yourself and your business.
The Regulatory and Compliance Solicitors at Wilford Smith are experts in all aspects of health and safety law and are able to provide industry-specific advice in numerous areas. We can work with you to ensure that you comply with relevant regulatory frameworks, that the aftereffects of any incident are managed appropriately, and that you receive the highest quality representation should a case proceed to court. Whatever the situation, our lawyers are available to give you immediate advice in order to guide you through any investigation, from the initial incident to resolution.
How is health and safety in the workplace regulated in England and Wales?
In England and Wales, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authorities have responsibility for the management and supervision of health and safety at work. These bodies have extensive powers to make sure employers are meeting their responsibility to maintain a safe environment for employees. This duty extends to the protection of non-employees, such as visitors or members of the public, and also applies to self-employed individuals.
Under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, the HSE and local authorities have the authority to carry out inspections into potential breaches of employers’ duties or obligations in regard to health and safety in the workplace. The Act gives inspectors extensive powers to collect evidence as part of their investigations – these powers extend beyond those that would normally be available as part of a police investigation. Inspectors can compel individuals to provide information relevant to their investigation, demand the production of documents and take copies of these, and collect samples and photographs. Obstruction of an investigation is a criminal offence.
When will the HSE or local authority carry out an investigation?
The HSE or local authority may choose to carry out an investigation for a number of reasons. This may take place where there has been:
- a routine inspection;
- an incident in which the emergency services have been called out to the workplace;
- a report made as part of an employer’s obligations under RIDDOR;
- a complaint about unsafe working practices.
An investigation will be carried out to identify whether there has been a breach of a health and safety duty, who has breached this duty and the effects of the breach.
In almost all investigations, inspectors will use interviews under caution to gather evidence that can be used as part of any future criminal proceedings. At an interview under caution, the investigating authority is collecting information that will be used to build a case against you. By instructing a specialist solicitor from Wilford Smith’s Regulatory and Compliance Team you will have the support of legal experts with in-depth knowledge of the investigation process, ensuring that interviews are conducted in a fair and proper manner. We will make sure that you understand this process and will be available to answer any questions and address any concerns that you may have, advising how best to protect your interests throughout.
If on completion of an investigation, the HSE or local authority decides action needs to be taken, this will often result in prosecution. These prosecutions will be handled by the criminal courts and, if proven, will result in a criminal record and further punishment. Getting legal advice at an early stage in proceedings can play a key role in determining whether an investigation proceeds to the prosecution stage, and will give you the opportunity to conduct a robust defence at a later stage if necessary.
How do the HSE and local authorities enforce employers’ duties and obligations?
If the HSE or local authority inspectors believe an employer is failing to fulfil their legal duties, they have the power to issue enforcement notices against individuals and businesses. These notices take the form of Improvement Notices, when ‘improvement’ is required to ensure compliance, and Prohibition Notices, when it is believed that there is an imminent risk of serious injury if work continues. Enforcement notices can have a huge impact on your business as this will be recorded and taken into account in any future regulatory investigation, raising your risk profile with the HSE and the local authority, potentially hampering your business in tendering for future work, and in some cases halting work altogether. With such serious consequences, the right legal advice can be invaluable. The Regulatory and Compliance Solicitors at Wilford Smith can advise on the justification of enforcement notices, and conduct appeals against these on your behalf, ensuring the best representation for you and reducing any disruption to your business.
Why choose Wilford Smith?
Wilford Smith’s Regulatory and Compliance Solicitors provide our clients with a service that is exceptionally strategic and results driven, ensuring that you are given clear, straightforward and jargon-free advice regarding health and safety in your workplace. With years of experience in handling health and safety investigations, we are best placed to advise you on challenging allegations. Our solicitors appear in court regularly, taking a ruthless approach to representing our clients’ interests, and can attract the highest calibre barristers to provide support when necessary.
Contact our Health and Safety Compliance Solicitors, England and Wales
Our Regulatory and Compliance Teams are based in Sheffield and assist businesses with health and safety compliance throughout England and Wales. Contact us today on 01709 828 044 to find out how we can help.