A 49% rise in the number of health and safety court cases in Scotland could be “a sign of things to come,” a leading litigation expert has warned.
The Health and Safety Statistics annual report issued this week found that in 2014-15 the Procurator Fiscal prosecuted 72 cases in Scottish courts, with a 97% successful conviction rate.
In the past year, notable cases have included the imprisonment of a skipper after the death of a diver in Largo Bay, a £30,000 fine handed to an auction firm over the death of an employee, and a £200,000 fine to a Glasgow firm after a worker fell to his death from a cherry-picker.
Laura Cameron, head of litigation at Pinsent Masons, said: “The rise in prosecutions brought in Scotland is remarkable and demonstrates the commitment of the Crown Office to tackling such crime.
“Health and safety is clearly a priority for the authorities and a further increase over the next year in the number of cases being prosecuted would not be unexpected. Board rooms across the country should be taking note, and if they are not already doing so, should be pushing health and safety issues to the top of their agenda.”
Sentencing Guidelines are expected to be introduced in England and Wales in February, set to increase penalties to a maximum of £20million for corporate manslaughter cases. It is thought that these will also have an impact on Scottish law.
Laura added: “As yet there has been no corporate homicide case brought in Scotland but the Crown Office will be casting a sharp eye over incidents which match the criteria for a potential prosecution. Now more than ever businesses have to ensure their regulatory and compliance procedures are all they should be and meet the highest of standards.”
Rosie Garrigan, a consultant at online compliance business Cerico, added: “The first step in building a compliance culture which minimises the risk of health and safety breaches is having the right policies and procedures in place.
“Technology has a huge role to play in that as it helps give management visibility over workforce engagement with company policies and we are increasingly seeing many corporates turn to technology to help with embedding compliance in to daily business life.”