The Health and Safety (Offences) Act will boost potential fines in magistrates’ courts from £5,000 to £20,000 and increase the range of offences that could lead to a custodial sentence.
But Taylor Wessing associate Aine McCartney said the legislation may not help organisations actually address health and safety issues.
Ms McCartney added: “The problem with current law – and this Act will not do anything to change the courts’ attitudes – is that it is difficult for courts to take into consideration how far a perpetrator has gone to prevent health and safety breaches.
“There should be some scope for engaging these organisations in a dialogue designed to make them recognise the need for health and safety duties and to take action to prevent breach.”
Pinsent Masons partner Peter Atkinson described the increased option of imprisonment as “significant and worrying”, but said it wouldn’t necessarily lead to rogue companies being penalised. He said: “It is our experience that good managers can make mistakes which can now lead to loss of liberty as well as a criminal fine.”
The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health said it hoped the new laws would push firms to keep a closer eye on safety standards.
To read Aine McCartney's thoughts on the possible impact of the new Offences Act click here