Legal Update – November to February 2017
Warning on financial implications of sentencing guidelines
The Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM) has issued a warning on the financial implications of the new sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences, warning that fines that previously would have been set at about £20,000 may now be around the £1 million mark.
The charity, which has its origins in occupational health research, highlighted the important changes to the guidelines which were introduced on 1 February 2016.
At the time of their introduction, one law firm described the new guidelines as “the most significant development in health and safety law for over 40 years, since the Health and Safety at Work Act came into force in 1974” and predicted they will “dramatically increase fines for companies” and “lower the threshold for custody for individuals”.
Commenting in July 2016, five months after the introduction of the changes, the IOM said of the new sentencing climate, “The financial penalties are now significantly higher, reinforcing the need for particular stringency in the implementation of health and safety at work. Fines that would have been about £20,000 may now be about £1 million.”
The IOM says one of the factors the courts will take into consideration is the level of the risk of harm, and noted that this can take the fine category down by several hundred thousand pounds (from harm category 1 to harm category 2 or 3).
The Institute also notes that the level of fines will depend on the size (turnover) of the business.
The IOM source said, “This appears to be a new incentive for businesses to ensure that they do not fail in their duties to manage health at work, asbestos, food hygiene and workplace exposures properly.”
£33 million crackdown on modern-day slavery
The Prime Minister Theresa May has pledged £33 million in a crackdown on modern-day slavery, vowing to target slave masters in nail bars, car washes, brothels, construction sites and farms.
Marking the first anniversary of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 — which Mrs May introduced while serving as Home Secretary — she said a new UK cabinet task force would tackle the “sickening and inhuman crimes” of modern-day slavery, and that £33 million from the UK aid budget would go towards funding initiatives overseas.
The Prime Minister said it is estimated suggest that there are between 10,000 and 13,000 victims of modern slavery in the UK alone and over 45 million across the world.
Announcing the measures, Mrs May said, “Vulnerable people who have travelled long distances believing they were heading for legitimate jobs are finding they have been duped, forced into hard labour, and then locked up and abused. Innocent individuals are being tricked into prostitution, often by people they thought they could trust.”
Kevin Hyland, the UK’s Anti-slavery Commissioner, warned that a previous lack of action against slavery could have led to it becoming a “crime of choice”.
He said, “If you can actually commit these crimes in the high street, whether it’s in car washes, nail bars or brothels or whether it’s in the fields of East Anglia or in the construction industry, if you act with impunity, and you’re not being pursued by the law enforcement agencies, it’s very quickly going to become a crime of choice.”
The new measures were welcomed by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).
The global professional health and safety body said the UK Government has the opportunity to lead a “race to the top” in tackling modern slavery.
Maximum working temperatures?
MPs have tabled an early day motion (EDM) calling for the introduction of a maximum working temperature, beyond which employers would have a statutory duty to introduce effective control measures.
The EDM noted that at present there is no statutory maximum temperature at which employers need to introduce control measures, such as breaks, access to water or air conditioning.
The Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) to the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 suggests the minimum temperature in a workplace should normally be at least 16°C and if the work involves rigorous physical effort, the temperature should be at least 13°C.
The MPs who tabled the EDM have argued that there should be a corresponding upper temperature limit, given that excessive heat in the workplace is responsible for heat stress and thermal discomfort, and can impact seriously on health, wellbeing and productivity.
The EDM calls for a maximum working temperature of 30°C or 27°C for those doing strenuous work, beyond which employers would have a statutory duty to introduce effective control measures.
With temperatures reaching over 30°C in certain parts of the UK recently, the TUC urged employers to relax rules to enable staff to work more comfortably.
Commenting on the issue, Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, said, “Working in sweltering conditions can be unbearable and dangerous. Employers should relax dress code rules temporarily and ensure staff doing outside work are protected.”