We all want our staff and workforce to go home safety to their loved ones at night and it does appear there is evidence that we are getting better at it. In a recent article for Safety Management, Mark Tyler, a partner in the legal practice Shook, Hardy and Bacon, wrote “we often hear the complaint that health and safety fines are too low, but little is heard about HSE prosecutions dropping by half over the last decade, to around 1,000 a year”.
Obviously, there are many reasons for the number of prosecutions falling and Mark Tyler does go on to point out that “rationing prosecutions sacrifices fairness”. He then goes on to argue that, in these days of budget cuts, administrative fines, as used in both the US and parts of Europe, might be a better way of managing the system for the following reasons.
- They offer streamlined investigations as the investigator is focused on the reasons (root causes) of contraventions
It is faster as there are fewer players involved in the process
- There is an incentive to admit breaches as the case will be diverted from the criminal courts and the associated disproportionate legal costs
- Legislators can set out, in advance, criteria for realistic levels of fines
Finally, he goes on to suggest that, if such a process were adopted, the fines imposed could be ring fenced to the HSE and be used to fund inspection and investigation. He ends with “in these straitened times, is it such a bad thing that offenders have to bear a greater share of the costs of enforcement?”.
A virtuous health and safety circle? Certainly food for thought.