After sharp rise in court hearings...

Firms should heed tough clampdown on H&S

Laura CameronA huge rise in the number of health and safety court cases in Scotland is a sign of a tougher clampdown by the authorities, says a leading litigation expert.

Health and Safety statistics for the past year reveal that 72 cases were heard in Scottish courts, a 49% rise on the previous year.

As a warning to those who are tempted to flout the law, the Procurator Fiscal secured a 97% conviction rate.

Laura Cameron (pictured), head of litigation at Pinsent Masons, said the figures showed there would be no hiding place for companies that fall foul of health and safety legislation.

She said: “The rise in prosecutions brought in Scotland is remarkable and demonstrates the commitment of the Crown Office to tackling such crime.

“Health and safety is clearly a priority for the authorities and a further increase over the next year in the number of cases being prosecuted would not be unexpected. Board rooms across the country should be taking note, and if they are not already doing so, should be pushing health and safety issues to the top of their agenda.”

The introduction of the sentencing guidelines in England and Wales will almost certainly have an impact in Scotland, said Cameron.

“These are expected in February 2016 and they are set to increase penalties to a maximum of £20 million for corporate manslaughter cases.  Organisations should ignore health and safety at their peril.”

In the past year, notable health and safety cases dealt with include the imprisonment of skipper Guthrie Melville after the death of diver James Irvine in Largo Bay, a £30,000 fine handed to auction firm Lawrie and Symington over the death of an employee, and a £200,000 fine against SW Global Resourcing after a worker fell to his death from a cherry-picker.

Ms Cameron added: “As yet there has been no corporate homicide case brought in Scotland but the Crown Office will be casting a sharp eye over incidents which match the criteria for a potential prosecution.

“Now more than ever businesses have to ensure their regulatory and compliance procedures are all they should be and meet the highest of standards.”

Rosie Garrigan, a consultant at Pinsent Masons’ online compliance business Cerico, added: “The first step in building a compliance culture which minimises the risk of health and safety breaches is having the right policies and procedures in place.

“Technology has a huge role to play in that as it helps give management visibility over workforce engagement with company policies and we are increasingly seeing many corporates turn to technology to help with embedding compliance in to daily business life.”

Health and Safety Statistics for Great Britain 2014/15 Key Stats

1.2 million working people suffering from a work-related illness

142 workers killed at work (20 in Scotland)

27.3 million working days lost to work-related illness and workplace injury

Estimated cost to economy due to injury and ill health £14.3 billion

12,430 enforcement notices issued

72 cases prosecuted by Procurator Fiscal in Scotland

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