The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that ensures businesses are following relevant health and safety legislation has announced that it is aiming to make the cost recovery dispute process fully independent.
In recent years, there has been a clamp down on businesses that breach health and safety law either by putting their workers at risk of harm or by not complying with environmental regulations.
In 2015/16 there were nearly 700 cases that resulted in legal proceedings against companies who didn’t comply with current health and safety law. In fact, there was also a 95% conviction rate with fines averaging just under £60,000.
So, what is the current cost recovery dispute process and what will change in the future?
The Current System
Under the current system businesses that break health and safety regulations are required to pay the costs associated with this.
In 2012 the Fee for Intervention (FFI) scheme was introduced that removed the financial burden from taxpayers to cover these costs and instead moved it onto the offending company. This included costs such as inspectors carrying out site visits, reports and prohibition notices as well as the fees for involving specialised services.
The idea behind the scheme was to act as a deterrent for businesses that break the law as they will be liable to pay fees should HSE need to get involved.
Powers Of The HSE Inspectors
Back in December 2016 we looked at the specific powers the health and safety inspectors and what they can enforce.
In many cases health and safety inspectors can simply offer advice if the offence isn’t deemed to be too serious and carry out a further inspection to ensure the problem has been rectified.
Crucially a health and safety inspector can start prosecution proceedings against your business when can result in a fine, imprisonment for those responsible in addition to the company covering all the costs which run into the thousands of pounds.
The Proposals Going Forward
A judicial review brought forward by the OSC Group UK argued that the disputes panel who decide on the inspectors’ decision did not have the necessary independence and impartiality. The panel who ultimately decide on the dispute consists of 2 members from HSE and an independent member.
HSE have begun a process of engaging with stakeholders to make the cost recovery dispute procedure a fully independent process.
This should guarantee complete impartiality and objectivity for businesses who have been deemed to have broken the law or have not followed regulations correctly.
Health And Safety And Your Business
The move to a fully independent process is a welcome one however you should take all necessary steps to ensure that you don’t end up falling foul of the HSE in the first place.
Health and Safety prosecutions are rising year on year and the conviction rate is high. While some accidents at work are unavoidable most cases brought forward by the HSE could have been prevented by proper health and safety checks.
Ensure that your business doesn’t need to go through a dispute with HSE and keep up to date with health and safety legislation, conduct regular staff training as well as frequent risk assessments and ensure that you are complying with the law.