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Prison for health and safety offenders

Architects could be imprisoned for breaches of health and safety under a new Act a top law firm has warned.

The Health and Safety Offences Act 2008 comes into effect this Friday (16 January 2009).

The Private Member’s Bill received Royal assent in October 2008 and amends Section 33 of the Heath and Safety at Work Act 1974, increasing the maximum penalty for breaching regulations from £5,000 to £20,000 in a Magistrates court. But employees also face a prison sentence if found guilty of contributing to a health and safety offence by their consent, connivance or neglect.

Law firm, Eversheds' Regulatory partner David Young said: ‘The reassurance given by the MP [Keith Hill] proposing the Act is that a custodial sentence will be imposed only in the most serious ‘public outrage’ cases.

‘I think it is inevitable that initially more people are held personally accountable then has historically been the case but I think the intention is deterrence. Does this mean that more people – an architect under a CDM contract for example – will be held personally accountable and at worst imprisoned for health and safety breaches? In practical terms probably not, but could they? Yes.’

Richard Shaw, legal counsel for Bovis Lend Lease says 'Major contractors like ourselves take health and safety very seriously and the new Act does not change things in terms of our responsibility. The changes are in terms of consequence.'

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