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Health and safety liability can cost an arm and a leg

View profile for Roderick Jones
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Health and safety liability can cost an arm and a leg – here’s how to protect your business and employees

The cost to your business of failing to have a safe work environment can be catastrophic. In 2016 the financial punishment for breaches of Health and Safety directives and regulations went through the roof. Business owners held responsible for health and safety failures may even be imprisoned.

No doubt lawmakers’ intention is to encourage businesses to take care of worker and customer safety. But falling foul of guidance and regulations is a big problem for many small businesses. It does not take an injury or an accident to invoke the wrath of the Health & Safety Executive – even if nobody gets hurt in an accident, your business could be liable to pay out thousands just because it created a risk. If you manage the risk you can protect your business.

The Health and Safety Executive isn’t out to ban dangerous work. Its goal is simply to ensure that any work is properly managed to minimise the risk of harm. But once an investigation starts the inspectors’ powers are fearsome. There is practically no way for a business to avoid having to co-operate with the inspectors, which is likely to mean allowing site access, answering questions and disclosing records. Even delaying the investigation can result in a criminal conviction for obstruction.

The smallest of businesses can suffer a fine of up to £2,000 for a basic breach of its health and safety duties. Fines can be ten times bigger if the inspectors decide the business has seriously failed to address risks, or a hundred times bigger if they decide there is a risk of serious harm.

The Institute of Occupational Safety and Health says the fines now being imposed reflect “the desire to deter others from making the same errors” and rightly observes,

“Protecting employees and others affected by a business’s operations will not only eliminate the risk of a large financial penalty but can also be key to ensuring and maintaining an organisation’s strong reputation and ultimately contributing to its success.”

So the antidote is: manage the risks.

Wainwright & Cummins can help you with that: arrange a free consultation with us to discuss how the law applies to your business and whether your current systems are likely to meet the risks. If you are subject to an inspection we can provide independent advice to guide you through the process and help you protect your business.