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Environmental Health Investigation of incident at work

Am I at risk of prosecution?

Q:  I run a busy country pub which serves food daily until 9:00pm and has become a very popular dining destination for local people.  There was an unfortunate incident in the kitchen last  weekend when one of my kitchen staff inadvertently knocked against a pasta boiler and received burns from boiling water.  The local Environmental Health Officer has been to the premises and it seems that the boiler was faulty and that that contributed significantly to the unfortunate accident.  The EHO has mentioned that I might be prosecuted and I am very worried.  What should I do?

A:  The first thing to do is to co-operate fully with the Environmental Health Officer’s investigation.  They will undoubtedly want to see a copy of your Health & Safety Policy and any risk assessments relating to the use of the pasta boiler in particular.  Equally, if you have maintenance records for the boiler then that would be helpful as well. 

The EHO will be interested in whether you should have known that the boiler was faulty and done something about it.  They will also be interested in the quality of training provided to staff with regards to the risk of using this type of equipment.  If the EHO is satisfied that you were in some way at fault you may be invited to an interview under caution to provide your side of the story.  It is imperative that you have legal advice at that point.  Whilst there are a whole range of outcomes in this sort of matter if you do end up being prosecuted then the consequences can be quite serious in terms of high levels of fines. 

New sentencing guidelines came out last year which encourage significantly higher fines depending upon the turnover of the company and the levels of harm and risk, together with a number of other factors.  The Courts seem to have been following these guidelines and the fines in Health & Safety matters have often been in the hundreds of thousands of pounds whereas previously they were much less.  A lot depends on the size of your organisation but the higher fines together with the adverse publicity associated with a prosecution can be very damaging to a business.   

It is important to realise that your level of co-operation in the initial investigation may be a swaying factor in the decision as to whether to prosecute or not.

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