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Health & Safety and Trading Standards Prosecutions

Every UK business is required to comply with a wide range of regulations governing how they operate, and those relating to Health and Safety and Trading Standards can be some of the most complex and critical.

Failing to meet your legal obligations under Health and Safety law or Trading Standards regulations can result in an investigation, prosecution and the potential of severe penalties, both for your business and for you as a business owner.

If you have received a letter or notice from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), or a local authority Trading Standards service, related to an alleged Health and Safety or Trading Standards offence, having the right legal advice and representation from the outset is essential.

Freemans Solicitors is home to an acclaimed team of business crime lawyers. We can guide you through the ordeal of Health and Safety and Trading Standards investigations and prosecutions. We provide timely proactive advice to businesses facing an investigation or prosecution. We will advise you thoroughly on the law and procedure, find out from you what happened and advise of your options from there. We will comprehensively and robustly defend you where you have a defence. If it is clear that the prosecuting authority can prove the case to a criminal standard we will advise you of that but work tirelessly to get the best possible outcome for you and/or your business. 

Types of Health & Safety offences

Health and Safety offences are committed when there has been a breach of requirements set out in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and various regulations covering health and safety standards in the workplace.

If the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), believes that you have breached one or more of these requirements, they may take one of a number of enforcement actions, depending on the exact nature of the alleged breach(es). They may:

  • Offer information and advice, orally or in writing
  • Issue an improvement notice requiring you to take immediate action to rectify the breach
  • Issue a prohibition notice demanding that you immediately cease any activities that are putting people at risk
  • Withdraw approvals or vary licence conditions for particular types of activity
  • Issue a simple caution
  • Begin criminal proceedings against you for the breach

Criminal proceedings may take place in a Magistrates’ Court or Crown Court, depending on the severity of the breach. Health and Safety prosecutions can be broadly divided into three categories of increasing seriousness.

  • Summary Only Offences – These include minor breaches of the Act, such as obstructing a Health and Safety officer and would normally be dealt with in a Magistrates’ Court.
  • Either Way Offences – These can be tried either in a Magistrates’ Court or Crown Court. Most Health and Safety offences are classed as either way offences, including those that lead to serious injury or death (depending on the circumstances).
  • Indictable Only Offences – These are the most serious types of offences such as gross negligence manslaughter and corporate manslaughter. These offences can only be dealt with by a Crown Court.

Penalties for breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act

The exact penalties for a Health and Safety offence will depend on the seriousness of the offence.

In general, the penalties upon conviction may include:

  • A fine
  • A prison sentence (when the conviction is against an individual)
  • Being required to pay compensation to the injured person or people
  • A remedial order (requiring you to rectify the breach)
  • Director disqualification
  • A prosecution order (requiring you to pay the prosecutor’s costs)

Our Health & Safety prosecutions legal defence service

If you and/or your business have been accused of breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act or one of the wide-range of other Health and Safety regulations we can provide the expert legal advice and skilled advocacy you need to protect your business and reputation.

Whether you have been invited for an interview under caution, served with an improvement or prohibition notice or are being prosecuted, we can help. 

Health & Safety offences FAQs

Who is legally responsible for Health and Safety at work breaches?

The employing organisation are usually alone held legally responsible for Health and Safety breaches and therefore liable to be prosecuted.

The position is different where an offence under any of the relevant statutory provisions is said to be ‘committed with the consent or connivance of, or is attributable to any neglect on the part of, any director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the organisation' . Then, that person (as well as the organisation) can be prosecuted under section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

What is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974?

This Act contains the foundation of the legal structure for the management and enforcement of health and safety law in the UK.  It, among other things, sets out some non-delegable duties on organisations.

It sets out a number of offences and also provides the framework for the making of health and safety regulations and the preparation and approval of codes of practice. More than 150 sets of regulations have been made, through the gateway of the Act. Some of the more commonly enforced regulations include matters such as:

  • The management of Health and Safety at Work
  • Gas safety
  • Asbestos
  • Electricity at work
  • The control of substances hazardous to health
  • Manual handling operations
  • The provision and use of Work Equipment
  • Lifting operations
  • Construction 

Who enforces Health and Safety law?

Health and Safety offences are most commonly investigated and prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). However, depending on the circumstances, they can also be dealt with by other official bodies, such as local authorities or industry-specific organisations, such as the Official Rail Regulator.

I have received an initial letter from HSE. When should I instruct a lawyer?

If you have received a letter regarding any potential or actual enforcement action, and you do not already have a lawyer, we would recommend that you instruct somebody immediately. Your initial response to HSE will inevitably influence the decisions that they subsequently make about enforcement action. It is essential therefore that you obtain legal advice at this early stage,  in order for you to both know where you stand legally and to ensure that all matters that can properly be advanced on your behalf are made known to HSE. 

My company has been asked to attend a voluntary interview under caution. What should we do?

There is no legal requirement for you to attend a voluntary interview. However, it may be in your best interests to do so. For example, it may result in the company not being prosecuted because of your response.  It is not possible to give generic advice as each case is different. Again we would advise instructing a lawyer immediately to advise you as to your best course of action.

We would consider with you the nature and extent of any pre-interview disclosure and what is to be gained or lost by accepting the invitation. An alternative if we advise you not to attend a voluntary interview, would be to nonetheless make detailed written representations to HSE on your behalf. This can sometimes result in a prosecution not being pursued.

My company is being prosecuted - Do I have to attend court?

This depends upon whether you are personally being prosecuted or only the company. If you are personally being prosecuted, then you must attend court.

If however, the prosecution is just against the company, then if the company is legally represented it is not strictly necessary for a director, employee, or other officer of the company to be present at any stage of the proceedings, unless attending as a witness. However, it is rare that nobody from the company attends, when being charged with a serious health and safety offence. In the absence of a satisfactory explanation, the magistrates or Judge may take the absence of a representative from the company to be a reflection of the company’s reaction. In other words that they are not treating it seriously. It is highly advisable therefore that a senior representative attends, particularly should the matter proceed to sentence.

Trading standards offences

A Trading Standards investigation and prosecution for an alleged offence can place significant strain on a business, its owners, and other key personnel. Businesses are required to comply with a wide range of consumer protection legislation .Where an investigation or prosecution is underway a trading standards offences lawyer can both guide them through the process but also put them in the best position to protect their business and its reputation.

Trading Standards offences cover an extensive range of issues, including:

  • False advertising
  • Fraudulent trading
  • Dealing in counterfeit goods
  • Breach of copyright
  • Food labelling offences
  • Food safety issues
  • Supply of age-restricted products to minors
  • Trade descriptions offences

Most legislation concerning trading standards offences is investigated by your local Trading Standards service. Each local authority is required to have an investigations and enforcement policy, which sets out how they operate. Trading standards officers can use a wide range of statutory powers to investigate and enforce consumer protection laws.

Once a Trading Standards investigation has been concluded it could result in a number of actions, including:

  • A formal warning
  • A Fixed Penalty Notice
  • A Statutory Notice
  • Review/removal of business licences
  • Criminal prosecution

We would strongly recommend that if your business is being investigated by your local trading standards department that you instruct a lawyer at the earliest opportunity. Timely advice and proactive interaction with the investigatory body is likely to give your business the best chance of avoiding the additional costs, stress and time of a prosecution.

Penalties for Trading Standards offences

Penalties upon conviction for a Trading Standards offence range in severity, depending upon the nature of the allegation. They can include however, on occasion, a substantial fine and sometimes even a prison sentence for individuals. Most local authorities also publicise the outcome of some cases, and the ongoing damage to your businesses reputation of a conviction needs also to be borne in mind

If your business is already being prosecuted for a trading standards offence, then our trading standards offences lawyers can provide you with the legal help you need. We will give you clear advice on your options and use skill and experience to robustly advance your case on your behalf at court. This will aim to provide you with the opportunity to achieve the best outcome you can at the end of the case.

Trading Standards offences FAQs

What are the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008?

This legislation sets out to protect consumers from unfair or misleading trading practices and sales tactics. They were designed to introduce a comprehensive framework to address sharp practices and rogue traders. Amendments to the regulations introduced in 2014 also give consumers the right of redress if they have been the victim of misleading practices or aggressive selling.

The Regulations contain a general ban on unfair commercial practices and misleading and aggressive practices. Also the regulations list 31 specific practices that are banned.

Who prosecutes Trading Standards offences?

Trading Standards offences can be investigated and prosecuted by your local Trading Standards service, as well as some other authorities, including the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

How long do Trading Standards investigations take?

Investigations and prosecutions by Trading Standards can take months or even years. This can become a significant distraction from your business, as well as having the potential to cause on-going damage to your reputation. We would strongly recommend legal advice and support at the earliest stage, to guide you through the process. In some cases, it may also be appropriate to discuss and advance an alternative to extended criminal proceedings.

What powers do Trading Standards Officers have?

The enforcement powers available to a trading standards officer investigating your business depends upon what potential breach is being investigated. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 sets out a generic list of powers available when investigating breaches of consumer protection legislation.

Additional powers may also, however, be contained within the specific legislation dealing with the alleged offence. If officers do not use the powers available to them lawfully, this could lead to a later application to exclude that evidence from being considered at trial

Freemans Solicitors’ expertise in Health and Safety & Trading Standards prosecutions

Our highly talented team includes outstanding litigators and advocates who will always aim to give you skilled practical and appropriate advice. We will advance your case in a way that you seeks to promote the best outcome for you and your business, while keeping you informed throughout the process.

In December 2017, Freemans Solicitors was awarded the title of Business Crime Law Firm of the Year in the prestigious Lawyer Monthly Legal Awards.

To discuss your case in confidence, please contact our Trading Standards offences and Health and Safety offences team directly via , or 020 7935 3522 always remembering that early advice is crucial for the best possible outcome. In the case of an emergency please call our 24/7 number 07973 259382