Britain Raises Penalties for Most OSH Violations

A new law, the Health and Safety Offences Act 2008, took effect Jan. 16 in Great Britain. Not only does it raise the maximum fine that lower courts can impose for most safety and health offenses to £20,000 (about $29,000 in U.S. dollars), but also it makes jail time a possibility for more offenses in both lower and higher courts, according to the Health and Safety Executive.

Judith Hackitt, chair of HSE, said she welcomes the change. "This act gives lower courts the power to impose higher fines for some health and safety offences. It is right that there should be a real deterrent to those businesses and individuals that do not take their health and safety responsibilities seriously. Everyone has the right to work in an environment where risks to their health and safety are properly managed, and employers have a duty in law to deliver this," Hackitt said in a released posted by her agency. "Our message to the many employers who do manage health and safety well is that they have nothing to fear from this change in law. There are no new duties on employers or businesses, and HSE is not changing its approach to how it enforces health and safety law. We will retain the important safeguards that ensure that our inspectors use their powers sensibly and proportionately. We will continue to target those who knowingly cut corners, put lives at risk and who gain commercial advantage over competitors by failing to comply with the law."

The penalties are not retroactive, applying to violations occurring from Jan. 16 onward. Britain's Parliament passed the act in October 2008, and it received Royal Assent on Oct. 16. The act's full text is available at this site.

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