Health & Safety Update: October 2013 to April 2014

11 April 2014

Author: Ashleigh Birkett
Practice Area: Health and Safety



There are currently 8 open consultations available on HSENI’s website regarding proposed changes to Approved Codes of Practice (“ACoPs”).  ACoPs provide practical guidance on how to meet health and safety legal requirements; however, they have a special legal status and must be complied with.

The consultations set out proposals from HSENI to approve, for use in Northern Ireland, ACoPs which have been published by HSE(GB).

This review of ACoPs in the UK has been instigated following a recommendation of Professor Löfstedt who conducted an independent review of the UK’s health and safety legal framework. The aim was to amend, revise, consolidate or withdraw various ACoPs, in order to make it easier for dutyholders to understand what they need to do to comply with the law. 

Companies are advised to ensure they are aware when the revised ACoPs are finally approved for use in Northern Ireland so they can adhere to them.

In addition, it will be of local interest that HSE(GB) has opened a consultation in relation to proposed changes to the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007.  The main proposed changes are to: “make the Regulations easier to understand; replace the CDM co-ordinator role with the principal designer; replace the ACOP with targeted guidance; replace the detailed and prescriptive requirements for individual and corporate competence with a more generic requirement; align notification requirements with the Directive and apply the Regulations to domestic clients but in a proportionate way”.

Local Health and Safety Case Law

There were 17 reported HSENI prosecutions in 2013.  Of particular interest, J Murray & Son Limited was fined £100,000, plus £10,450 costsfollowing the death of an employee on 28th February 2012 when he became entangled in an animal feed mixing machine.  This was the second prosecution under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 in this jurisdiction. 

In terms of interesting trends, there appears to have been a particular focus on enforcement of asbestos requirements, with a third of HSENI’s cases in 2013 (that is 6 out of 17 prosecutions) relating to this topic.  There was also a number of significant fines imposed confirming that the local Courts are willing to impose hefty fines where defendants fail to comply with health and safety laws.

There have been several reported HSENI prosecutions to date in 2014 including:

  • Mr George Brown, gas fitter, was sentenced to two years in prison, with two years on licence, following the death of two teenage boys from carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty boiler.  Mr Brown reportedly pleaded guilty to gross negligence manslaughter and also admitted 19 other health and safety charges for which he was fined £1,000 per offence.  He has been given one year to pay this sum.  Carbon monoxide remains a focus area with HSENI and the Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service signing a ‘silent killer’ co-operation agreement to create a co-ordinated approach to carbon monoxide safety and education in Northern Ireland. 
  • Mr Aidan Lavery was fined £10,000 plus costs of £1,500 following a guilty plea relating to an incident where a householder fell through an opening for a lift and sustained injury.  It is understood that a temporary cover had not been fitted once the opening was created and before the lift was installed, to prevent someone from sustaining a fall.
  • Piperhill Construction Limited was fined £8,000 after entering guilty pleas to breaches two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work (NI) Order 1978.  The case related to failings with regard to the handling of asbestos.

In England and Wales, the Court of Appeal has considered the sentences imposed in R v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd and R v Sellafield Ltd.  Both companies had appealed the imposition of large fines for health and safety and environmental breaches.  The Court of Appeal confirmed that the financial means of an offender is relevant to the level of fine imposed.  In effect, large companies can expect to receive significant fines for breaches of health and safety law in future, even where fatalities may not have occurred, as there is no ceiling on the level of fine that may be imposed.  Further, a corporate defendant’s finances will be closely scrutinised by the Court in making a determination on sentence.

For further information, or to discuss any health and safety matters in more detail, please contact Ashleigh Birkett.