Health and safety breaches could lead to jail terms under new laws

Breaches of health and safety law could land directors, managers, officers and other employees with a prison sentence from today, experts have warned.

The Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008 broadens the range of offences that could incur a custodial sentence and applies to employees at all levels of the business.

Fines for health and safety offences could also be unlimited under the new legislation if a case reaches the higher courts.

Robert Tailby, loss control specialist at Chubb Insurance, said that while earlier legislation allowed for prison sentences, such cases were rare. “Now what was myth will become reality,” he said.

Under the new rules, employees at any level could be sent to prison if they take short-cuts with health and safety, even if no-one has actually died or been hurt, he said.

“Businesses should check their health and safety policies and practices in the light of the new legislation,” Tailby added. “They should ensure that there are robust mechanisms in place to keep people in their organisations healthy and safe at work, and to protect themselves and their management from both civil claims and criminal prosecutions.”

The new law quadruples the maximum fine for minor health and safety breaches from £5,000 to £20,000.

Earlier this month, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) warned that falling foul of the tough new safety regulations could spell the end for firms already struggling with the economic downturn.

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