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Employers face imprisonment under new health and safety laws

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The Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008 comes into force today, which could see directors, managers and employees facing a prison sentence, experts have warned.

The new legislation broadens the range of offences for which an indiviudal can be imprisoned, without the need for indictment. Plus more offences will be held in the Crown Court for the first time, which dramatically increases the scope for custodial sentences.

It also raises the maximum penalties that can be imposed for breaching health and safety regulations from £5,000 to £20,000.

Rachel Histed, associate at law firm DLA Piper, advised employers to be even more vigilant about health and safety obligations than ever before:

“Whilst the HSE has commented that ‘good employers and good managers have nothing to fear’, given that there is a real possibility of two-year jail sentences being imposed, which can be accompanied by an unlimited fine, directors and individuals in management in particular, should be even more concerned to ensure that health and safety obligations are fulfilled.”

Brian Nimick, CEO of the British Safety Council, added: “With the new risk of higher fines and possible imprisonment for health and safety offences, this law should act as a deterrent and increase awareness of the need to adequately train and protect workers.”

According to the HSE, 229 workers were killed at work in 2007/08 and 34 million working days were lost overall to work-related illness and injury.

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