94% of health & safety prosecutions in the UK lead to successful convictions

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has recently published figures relating to health and safety proceedings, prosecutions and enforcement rates across the UK. 

In 2013/14, the UK saw 674 cases prosecuted for health and safety breaches, of which 636 cases resulted in successful convictions (94%) for at least one offence. The total fines received were £18 million.

In England and Wales, the HSE prosecuted 551 cases, securing convictions for 517 (94%). This marks a decrease in prosecutions of 5% from the previous year. Local authorities prosecuted 88 cases – 16% less than in the previous year – securing 85 convictions (97%). In Scotland, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) heard 35 cases and secured convictions for 34 (97%).

Concerns have been raised about the low rates of prosecutions in Scotland since the launch of the Health & Safety division of the COPFS in 2009. Following the high profile prosecutions of Transco in 2005 and ICL Plastics in 2007, it was considered by those involved that there was a need for specialisation to be brought to health and safety cases, leading to the creation of the Health & Safety division of COPFS in 2009. The profile of health and safety crime has been raised since the Health & Safety Division was created, however recent reports indicate that some continue to consider the unit to be ineffective.

Notwithstanding this, there has been a 25% increase of health and safety prosecutions in Scotland from the previous year. Moreover, for fatal and major injuries combined, Scotland is in line with most English regions. Work related ill-health rates in Scotland are statistically significantly lower than average. In addition, it should be noted that the conviction rate (97%) in Scotland is particularly high; the overwhelming majority of cases that are prosecuted lead to convictions.

What follows is a brief breakdown of the statistics.

Total fines

  • Across the UK, the total fines being received for health and safety related enforcement action has increased from £12,873,352 in 2012/13 to £16,689,386 in 2013/14. 
  • In Scotland, the total fines received has increased starkly from a total of £511,770 in 2012/13 to £940,250 in 2013/14 – an increase of £428,480.
  • This increase is not surprising given the particularly low level of fines received in 2012/13 when compared with the overall trend over the last 5 years. This pattern of incline after a dip in the level of fine in 2012/13 is broadly mirrored south of the border in England. Wales, on the other hand, does not follow this trend; here the total fines have decreased.

Enforcement notices (Improvement, Deferred Prohibition and Immediate Prohibition Notices)

  • Enforcement notices have been on the increase in 2013/14 compared with the previous year across the UK. 
  • Notably, the rising issuance of enforcement notices by HSE and local authorities in the UK is attributable to England alone. In Scotland and Wales, the number of notices has fallen slightly. The trend for both Scotland and Wales shows a gradual levelling off. 

Industry (Agriculture, Extractive & Utility Supply Industry & Waste & Recycling, Manufacturing, Construction, Service Industries)

  • The number of prosecutions and convictions has declined across all (of the above named) industries, with the exception being extractive & utility supply industry and waste & recycling. 
  • There has been an increase in improvement notices issued across all industries. 
  • Manufacturing is the only industry to see a decline in the number of immediate prohibition notices being issued; all other industries see an increase. 
  • The construction industry has seen the highest number of prosecutions across the UK (209), with 196 of those cases resulting in convictions. This is a slight drop from last year, but an increase in average fines per conviction. 

Specific legislation

  • Across the UK, the majority of prosecutions (392) and convictions (343) were brought under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1964. 
  • Thereafter, the Gas Safety (Installation & Use) Regulations 1998 provides the basis for the second highest number of prosecutions (172) and convictions (163). 
  • A substantial number of cases were also instituted under the Work at Height Regulations 2005 (99), securing 88 convictions, and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (87), securing 80 convictions. 
  • Accordingly, the convictions rate is around 90%, which conviction is met by an average fine levied of approximately £18,944. Total fines recovered amounted to £16,689,386.

Economic costs in the UK

  • It is said that between 2006/07 and 2012/2013 the estimated total cost to society (individuals, employers and the government) of injuries and ill health in workers resulting largely from current working conditions fell by £2.3 billion (from £16.5 billion in 2006/07 to £14.5 billion in 2012/13). The total cost shows signs of levelling off in recent years.

European comparison

  • Although health and safety recording, reporting and enforcement systems differ across Europe, overall it is thought that the UK’s performance on key health and safety measures is superior to that of other European countries in the following outcome areas: injury, fatalities and levels of self-reported work-related ill health.

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This article first appeared in Law-Now, CMS Cameron McKenna's free online information service, and has been reproduced with their permission. For more information about Law-Now, click here.