A healthy approach to work?
A Government initiative promises to halve fatal injuries and serious accidents at work by 2004, and, as Mark Macaulay reports, employers that fall foul of the rules could face tougher sentences, stiffer fines and a range of new penalties
The Government has launched an initiative to reduce accidents and ill health caused by work to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the enforcement of the landmark Health & Safety at Work Act 1974. Entitled ‘Revitalising Health and Safety’, the broad aim of the initiative is to ensure the regulatory framework for health and safety keeps pace with the changing workplace. More specifically, it aims to reduce the number of working days lost per 100,000 workers from work-related injury and ill health by 30% by 2010; reduce the rate of fatal and major injury accidents by 10% by 2010; and reduce the rate of work-related ill health by 20% by 2010. It has set a target of achieving half of the improvements under each target by 2004.These national aims are underpinned by 10 points which are intended to set the direction for health and safety over the next 10 years. These include: health and safety education at every level; cultivating a culture of self-regulation; ‘designing’ health and safety into processes and products; and motivating employers to improve their health and safety performance. In order to meet the aims, there will be a fundamental review of the health and safety incident reporting regulations by the Health and Safety Commission (HSC). There will also be a larger number of inspectors. The Government will seek an early legislative opportunity to give the courts greater sentencing powers for health and safety crimes. This will mainly be done by extending the £20,000 maximum fine in the lower courts to a much wider range of offences that currently attract a maximum penalty of £5,000; and the power to imprison for most health and safety offences. The HSC will advise ministers on the feasibility of consultees’ proposals for more innovative penalties. Examples of such penalties are fines linked to the turnover or profit of a company; prohibition of director bonuses for a fixed period; suspended sentences pending remedial action; penalty point system on the drivers’ licence model; fixed penalty notices for specific offences; and compulsory health and safety training. The Health and Safety Executive will monitor and draw public attention to trends in prosecution, convictions and penalties imposed by the courts by publishing a special annual report. This will ‘name and shame’ companies and individuals convicted in the previous 12 months. Preventing accidents and ill health, rather than dealing with the consequences seems to be the priority of the strategy statement. The intention appears to be to motivate employers to improve health and safety performance and encourage a culture shift to achieve this. However, Revitalising Health & Safety also indicates tougher sentences for health and safety offences and the introduction of innovative penalties.
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