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28 November 2007 - immediate release

CCA calls for new review of HSE prosecution criteria

The CCA is calling on the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) to undertake a new review of the circumstances when its inspectors should prosecute.

This comes after Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests revealed that HSE officials, whilst undertaking a review its prosecution policy, had failed to request any data on the level of prosecutions following investigations into dangerous occurrences or major injuries

The officials also had no written record of having given any consideration to changing the prosecution criteria - so that it required a prosecution to follow investigations that identify breaches of health and safety law that resulted in a major injury. The CCA had written to the HSE at the beginning of the review arguing that this change was necessary.

This comes at a time when prosecution levels have reduced by over 40% from 2001/2 levels. HSE's own published figures shows that the number of offences prosecuted reduced from 1986 in 2001/2 to 1141 in 2006/7.

HSC's proseuction policy is set out in its Enforcement Policy Statement (EPS). A review into the adequacy of the EPS started in 2003. In January 2007 the HSC decided that it was “fit for purpose” requiring no changes. There was no discussion at all at this meeting about the adequacy of the prosecution policy.

David Bergman, Executive Director of the CCA stated:

“It is astonishing that in the course of reviewing its enforcement policy, HSE officials did not have access to the most basic prosecution data – including how many prosecutions resulted from investigations into major injuries, dangerous occurrences and others kinds of reported incident. It is also apparent that the review did not involve any proper consideration of whether the prosecution criteria was too restrictive. In light of this, to call the enforcement policy statement ‘fit for purpose’ is meaningless.” 

The CCA has written to Judith Hackett, Chair of the Health and Safety Commission, asking her to undertake a further review of the prosecution criteria.

It has also urged the Select Committee on Work and Pensions – undertaking an inquiry today, Wednesday 28 November, into the work of the HSE and HSC - to intervene in this matter.

The CCA argues that the low level of investigation into major injuries – with about only one in ten being investigated – requires that the levels of prosecution, when criminal breaches of the law are identified, should be high. At present there is only about 1 in 100 chance of a reported major injury - a category that comprises the most serious injuries short of death - resulting in prosecution.

The CCA also argues that the low level of prosecution following major injury has serious implications for principles of moral justice and accountability.

CCA's written evidence to the select committee
FOIA requests: See questions 1 and 2 of the annex to this document; and then see question 2 of this letter
HSE paper to the HSC, prior to meeting in January 2007
HSC minutes of meeting in January 2007
Enforcement Policy Statement (see para 39)

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Page last updated on November 28, 2007