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Safety and Health Practitioner (SHP) is first for independent health and safety news.
August 21, 2008

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HSE passes up opportunity to apply for on-the-spot penalties

The HSE has waived its right to apply for new civil sanctions open to enforcement agencies under the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions (RES) Bill, which gained Royal Assent at the end of July.

The RES Bill opens the door for regulators to apply, through ministerial order, for new powers designed to provide more appropriate and efficient alternatives to criminal prosecution. Sanctions include fixed monetary penalty notices (on-the-spot fines), variable fines, and enforcement undertakings — legal agreements where the offender has to carry out specific activities to improve health and safety.

An HSE spokesperson told SHP that it had decided “there was no ‘enforcement gap’ for health and safety enforcers, and hence no need for HSE and LAs to adopt these alternative penalties”. However, the watchdog’s Enforcement Policy Statement, which sets out the principles that health and safety enforcement authorities should follow, is expected to be reviewed in light of the Bill, and the Regulators’ Compliance Code.

According to the Local Authorities Coordinators of Regulatory Services (LACORS), councils will not be able to apply either collectively or individually to use the wider sanctions set out under the Bill. Instead, they would have to be introduced by legislation amending health and safety law, which would require the agreement of the HSE.

A LACORS spokesperson said: “Currently, there is a difference of opinion between the HSE and councils regarding the need for these additional sanctions. The local government view is that there may be cases where additional sanctions would be useful, and it is promising that HSE has agreed to look at some of these scenarios more closely with the help of local authorities.”

The TUC said the HSE was concerned that the issuing of on-the-spot fines could change the relationship that inspectors have with employers. General secretary Brendan Barber added, however, that the TUC was in favour of administrative penalties for certain offences, such as failure to display a health and safety law poster. Added Barber: “We believe the correct approach would have been for the HSE to pilot administrative fines to see what effect they had, rather than simply say they are not appropriate.”

IOSH president, Ray Hurst, described the HSE’s decision as a “missed opportunity”. He said: “We believe [alternative penalties] could be used to help ensure organisations rectify underlying problems with their leadership, attitudes and systems — for example, by requiring compulsory training of directors and senior managers, or the use of third-party audit and competent advice.

“We very much hope the HSE will look at this again soon — alternative penalties that help raise health and safety standards and performance could benefit individuals, organisations, and society.”

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