Health and safety law is now a minefield for businesses to navigate and sentences for breaches have become increasingly severe following the coming into force of the Sentencing Guidelines for Health and Safety, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety and Hygiene Offences came into force in early 2016. Courts can now levy significant financial penalties on organisations by linking fines to turnover. There is also a greater chance of custodial sentences being handed down. The reputational damage which can result from a suspected health and safety breach can also cripple a company by frightening off investors and customers alike.
Health and Safety and Food and Hygiene Investigations, and Prosecutions
As a barrister with over 15 years’ experience, I understand how daunting a prospect
a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation is. Many organisations facing possible prosecution have never dealt with a regulatory investigator before and are highly stressed. I have significant experience in defending cases on behalf of businesses and individuals who have been prosecuted by the HSE and will take the problem off your shoulders, ensuring you receive expert advice at every stage of the process. I am also immediately available to manage an emergency response if an incident occurs.
What causes an HSE investigation?
There are a variety of reasons why a company or individual would draw the attention of the HSE, including:
- Breaches of health and safety law resulting in serious injury or death
- Poor health and safety standards and risk management
- Failure to respond to HSE warnings or an improvement or prohibition notice
- Failure to provide employees with the appropriate work wear and health and safety equipment
- Attempting to obstruct or deceive a health and safety investigator
Health and safety laws are constantly changing, making keeping up to date with compliance requirements extremely difficult for business owners focused on managing and growing their business. I can provide swift advice on an ad-hoc manner, as well as provide more comprehensive opinions on regulatory changes.
What is gross negligence manslaughter?
Manslaughter can be defined as:
“The unjustifiable, inexcusable, and intentional killing of a human being without deliberation, premeditation, and malice. Or, the unlawful killing of a human being without any deliberation, which may be involuntary, in the commission of a lawful act without due caution and circumspection”.
Gross negligence manslaughter involves a person owing another a duty of care, breaching that duty and that breach resulting in the involuntary death of that person.
A duty of care is almost always owed in an employer/employee relationship. However, there is much room for uncertainty, especially in relation to the level of fault required in a gross negligence manslaughter case. In R v Bateman (1925) 19 Cr App R 8, it was held that punishable negligence must display “disregard for the life and safety of others’. However, academic commentators have stated this is “an ambiguous statement which could be interpreted as requiring either objective fault or subjective fault on the part of the accused, depending on whether the term disregard requires awareness of a risk”. In addition, the difference between risk and negligence is not clear.
Given the prison sentences for gross negligence manslaughter are high (ranging from 12-18 years), the ambiguities in the law leave ample room for an injustice to be committed. Therefore, it is crucial that you seek legal advice immediately if a serious workplace accident causing death happens. I can lock-down the situation immediately, provide expert advice and represent you in police interviews, as well as conduct a diligent investigation to ensure a credible, robust defence is available should prosecution occur.
Food safety and hygiene
The Food Standards Agency is responsible for enforcing compliance related to food and hygiene standards across the UK.
Food business operators can be subject to inspections by the Food Standards Agency and any shortfalls in compliance can result in an investigation being launched. Such an action could lead to a prosecution, which if successful, can result in serious fines and even prison sentences. In addition, civil lawsuits can be launched against businesses by alleged victims of food safety and hygiene failures.
Following the recent tragic cases of young people dying due to allergic reactions following the consumption of takeaway meals, the pressure on the food industry to ensure cross-contamination off allergens does not occur. In addition, UK food businesses are required to conform to the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation (EU FIC) Consumers Regulation No. 1169/2011.
The 14 allergens controlled under the regulations are:
- cereals containing gluten
- sulphur dioxide (at a level above 10mg/kg or 10mg/litre)
And if a business is providing food which is described as ‘gluten-free’, the product must not contain more than 20mg/kg of gluten.
There are various holes in the regulations, and this can lead to confusion regarding their enforceability. I can assist you with clarifying your position should you be concerned about any aspects of the regulations and provide robust advice and strong defence should you find yourself or your business being investigated or subject to a civil litigation claim.