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Tip-off based health and safety inspections of UK businesses on the rise, says expert

Out-Law News | 22 May 2014 | 2:55 pm | 1 min. read

Directors of UK businesses that have cut back on health and safety measures due to cost-cutting are risking prosecution, an expert has said, following a reported rise in the number of regulatory inspections that came as a result of tip-offs.

Figures obtained by Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, showed an 18% increase in the number of inspections carried out by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as a result of tip-offs from whistleblowers and members of the public. HSE carried out 4,097 such inspections in the year to 31 March 2014; up from 3475 the previous year and 2,429 in 2011/12.

"The increase in tip-off based inspections means that businesses must be more prepared for surprise inspections by the HSE," said health and safety law expert Laura Cameron of Pinsent Masons.

"HSE, as a policy, will target directors for prosecution. They want to make health and safety a boardroom issue. If the HSE decides that cost-cutting was a primary reason for the breach of health and safety regulations they will try to prosecute senior management. All directors and senior managers must be aware of their health and safety obligations and ensure that they are carrying them out fully if they want to avoid falling foul of the law," she said.

The regulator receives information about potential breaches of health and safety regulations from a number of sources including complaints by local residents and members of the public; complaints by customers and suppliers; insurance reports on workplace incidents and 'whistleblowing' by employees or union representatives. The figures showed a steady increase in this sort of report.

Cameron said that HSE was aware that businesses often saw health and safety as a cost-cutting option when resources were tight. However, she warned that the risk of HSE uncovering "more systemic problems" during an inspection triggered by identification of a relatively minor infraction was high, given HSE's considerable resources in this area.

"Vigilance in maintaining a high standard of health and safety in the workplace is paramount, as the HSE is now more likely to act on the tip-offs it receives. There should be no surprise when businesses with unaddressed health and safety issues receive a knock on the door from an HSE inspector, who many have been tipped off by an employee or a customer," she said.

"HSE has the resources to be very active in responding to tip-offs about businesses breaching regulations and so failing to comply with health and safety regulations in an attempt to cut costs could be a false economy," she said.