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Health and safety Act increases penalties to employers

Posted on 16th February 2009
New legislation

The Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008 has recently come into force, applying to all health and safety offences committed from 16 January 2009 onwards.

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Simon Quantrill Simon
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the maximum prison sentence is two years

The law

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 is the primary piece of legislation setting out the law relating to occupational health and safety. A breach of its provisions by employers could constitute a criminal offence and such offences were originally detailed in section 33 of the Act. This section has now been amended by the 2008 Act, which has inserted a new Schedule 3A containing more onerous consequences for committing certain health and safety offences.


It increases the penalties which may be imposed for breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, raising the maximum fine which can be given by a magistrates' court from £5,000 to £20,000 and increasing the maximum prison sentence to six months. More severely, the maximum fine which can be given by a crown court is unlimited and the maximum prison sentence is two years. This is significant given the 2008 Act enables more offences to be tried in the crown court than previously, leaving few offences which can only be heard by the magistrates' court ('summary offences').


The new Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008 is a significant departure from previous health and safety law in terms of penalties to an employer for breaching its health and safety obligations. For example, previously there were few prison sentences that could be imposed on summary conviction by a magistrates' court, but this has now been expanded, while the fact that more cases may be heard by the crown court also enables harsher punishment. Although health and safety legislation applies to employers, individuals may also be prosecuted for certain offences.

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