MA(Hons) CIHM FIHM
Independent Consultant in Practice Management
Fiona is an experienced primary care trainer and facilitator. She is the national RCGP QPA Adviser and has advised on both the original and the review of the Quality and Outcomes Framework of the 2004 GP contract
Largely as a consequence of the media's recent unrelenting coverage of all things recession-related, it may have slipped your notice that the Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008 received Royal Assent in October and came into effect from 16 January 2009.
However, it is worth noting that this particular piece of legislation contains the threat of imprisonment for any employee who may have contributed to a health and safety offence through consent, connivance or neglect.
I suspect you are now tempted to read on. Judith Hackett, Chair of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says, reassuringly: "Our message to the many employers who do manage health and safety well is that they have nothing to fear from this change in the law".(1)
So, rather in the way that your mother used to say, "Well, dear … you can only do your best", you don't have to worry just as long as you are on top of health and safety in the practice. A summary of the changes may help to motivate those who might question whether they are really in this enviable position.
What does the Act mean?
The Act has come about as the consequence of the promises of both the government and the HSE to increase the sentencing powers that courts have in relation to health and safety crimes. The Act does the following:
It is only intended that custodial sentences will be used in cases that are so serious as to cause public outrage. The kinds of offences that would be thus described would include the following:
In a case of a serious breach of health and safety legislation, a business can be prosecuted under the Corporate Manslaughter Act 2007. This Act does not carry with it the potential of imprisonment as a penalty. In parallel with the prosecution of the business, an individual could be prosecuted under the new Health and Safety (Offences) Act, which does carry the possibility of imprisonment. It remains unclear what kind of position an individual would have to hold in the business in order to be vulnerable to prosecution.
What is clear, though, is that this is a significant change. In Scotland, it has led to the creation of the Specialist Heath and Safety Prosecutions Division, who will be three geographically based teams of lawyers solely dedicated to health and safety investigation and prosecution. The consequence of this will be efficient prosecutions and a higher chance of being convicted. For partners and practice managers alike, the preferable course is to be in a position to avoid either of these eventualities by making certain that health and safety is effectively managed in the practice.
The HSE website (see Resources) provides comprehensive information and guidance, along with sample risk assessments, to support businesses in complying with health and safety legislation. A useful 10-point plan leads employers through the basic steps required by law, as follows:
The new legal penalties for breaches of health and safety legislation reflect the importance of this area in a practice manager's responsibilities. Making health and safety a routine part of your weekly work will help keep this area manageable. Further articles in this series on risk management will concentrate on providing advice on specific health and safety activities to help ensure you can do this effectively.
1. Health and Safety Executive. The Health and Safety Offences Act 2008: HSE Chair Judith Hackitt welcomes tougher penalties. 15 January 2009. Available from: http://www.hse.gov.uk/press/2009/e09011.htm
2. Office of Public Sector Information. Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008. London: The Stationery Office; 2008. Available from: http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2008/ukpga_20080020_en_1
Health and Safety Executive
Health and safety policy statement
Five Steps to Risk Assessment
Getting specialist help with health and safety (HSE guidance)
Employers' Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969. A guide for employers.
Workplace health, safety and welfare – a short guide for managers
Consulting employees on health and safety
– a brief guide to the law
RIDDOR (HSE website guidance)