Last reviewed 13 May 2019
Fraud, forgery and falsification in the field of workplace health and safety can put people’s lives at risk — both members of the public and employees. We consider some cases and their consequences.
Fraudulent behaviour in health and safety can include the falsification and forgery of health and safety records and documents, as well as lying and misleading people about the health and safety qualifications, competencies and accreditations held by an individual or company.
This behaviour also constitutes a serious crime: when discovered by the enforcing authorities, it inevitably leads to criminal proceedings, the result of which can be custodial sentences as well as fines.
Even where enforcing authorities are not involved, there have been cases where individual employees have faced disciplinary and professional misconduct charges due to their actions.
All organisations need to be alert to the fact that there are companies and individuals who are dishonest to the extent that they are willing to put people at risk. Organisations need to take steps to minimise the risk of being victims of health and safety fraud. They need to be aware of the possible consequences and the potential legal outcomes.
Fraudulent behaviour: cases and consequences
Fraudulent behaviour can involve breaches of a number of health and safety statutes. In particular, the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 (HSWA) requires employers, the self-employed and employees to take care of themselves and others who might be affected by their actions or lack of action. Those involved in the forgery and or falsification of records and qualifications will therefore be in breach of the Act and will have to face the courts.
This may involve a breach of any of the main sections of HSWA at ss.2, 3, 4 and 7. Breaches of other health and safety statutes are also likely.
Section 33(1) of HSWA is particularly important when fraud occurs and states:
“It is an offence for a person intentionally to make a false entry in any register, book, notice or other document required by or under any of the relevant statutory provisions to be kept, served or given or, with intent to deceive, to make use of any such entry which he knows to be false.”
It is worth noting that a similar clause can be found in article 32(2) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
There have been a number of prosecutions relating to the falsification of records.
In May 2017, a Gas Safe registered engineer and a landlord were fined after falsifying gas safety records. Mr Waseem (the gas engineer) pleaded guilty to charges brought under the Fraud Act 2006 for falsifying gas safety records resulting in a total fine of £800, plus costs of £200 and a £30 victim surcharge. The landlord (Mr Hussain) pleaded guilty to charges brought under the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981 and was fined a total of £1000, plus costs of £500 and a £100 victim surcharge.
In a case reported in November 2015, an asbestos analyst was fined after he falsified air clearance certificates. Mr Lyons was an asbestos analyst tasked with undertaking final inspection and air testing following the removal of asbestos-containing materials from a site in Manchester. An HSE investigation found that Mr Lyons had failed to undertake a suitable inspection and had not carried out the correct amount of air testing, despite having reported that he had. Mr Lyons pleaded guilty to breaching s.7(a) resulting in a fine of £2000 plus costs of £3905.73.
In another case from March 2014, following an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive, two scaffold inspectors were prosecuted for breaching s.7(a) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974. It was discovered as part of the investigation into an accident that both had failed to complete inspections of the scaffolding involved in the accident but had both signed inspection records stating that the scaffolding was safe. Each received a sentence of 170 hours of community service and ordered to pay costs of £1500.
In 2013 a Shropshire businessman was fined for falsifying a safety document for a fork lift truck.
As reported by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the court was told that the man intentionally made a false entry on a Report of Thorough Examination for the truck, a statutory document required by law to show that lifting equipment is in a good state of repair. He had put the name of a genuine fork lift truck supplier at the top of the report and forged a genuine examiner’s signature at the bottom. He was fined £2400 and ordered to pay costs of £989 after pleading guilty.
Even where enforcement action is not taken, the falsification of records can have significant repercussions for those involved. In a case from 2015 a Headteacher (Paula Hagan) was banned from teaching by the National College for Teaching when she falsified records on the completion of weekly fire alarm tests.
Some people falsify their qualifications and accreditations; this is particularly common in the field of gas safety. There are numerous cases reported by the HSE. For example, a gas fitter was given a suspended prison sentence for carrying out repeated illegal and dangerous gas work at homes and businesses in Norfolk. The gas fitter continued to work on gas appliances in clear breach of an enforcement notice and despite being suspended from the Gas Safe Register.
The court heard in July 2014 that the fitter had issued a safety certificate for his work at a restaurant. However, his Gas Safe accreditation was invalid because he was suspended in May 2010 for failing to have his work inspected in accordance with the terms of his registration.
He was sentenced to eight months’ imprisonment, suspended for one year, after pleading guilty to seven breaches of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998, and one breach of HSWA. The judge commented on sentencing that it was only the gas fitter’s medical condition that prevented an immediate prison sentence.
In another case, reported in 2018, an asbestos removal company and two of its managers, were found guilty of forging asbestos training certificates and medical certificates for the company’s asbestos removal operatives following a case brought by the HSE.
Excavation and Contracting had used the forged certificates between 16 March 2012 and 10 March 2016 in order to gain an HSE asbestos licence so that it could trade. The forgeries were made by the company’s operations managers David Lloyd and Lee Cooper.
Excavation and Contracting (UK) pleaded guilty to breaching regulations 10(1)(a) and 22(1)(c) of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012. The company was fined £13,000 and ordered to pay costs of £10,000. Lloyd was sentenced to 12 weeks in prison, suspended for two years, and was ordered to carry out 200 hours of community service. Cooper was ordered to undertake 80 hours of community service. Both men were ordered to pay costs of £1000.
Combined fraud and safety offences
On 29 August 2014 a Hampshire businessman, who was disqualified from being a company director, was jailed for serious fraud and safety offences. A second businessman was given a suspended prison sentence for similar offences.
The two were jailed following joint proceedings by the HSE and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). The safety offence related to the tragic death of a 40-year-old worker in Southampton in September 2010.
Paul O’Boyle was jailed for a total of 26 months: 16 months for a breach of HSWA, 10 months for a breach of the Fraud Act 2006 and a total of 8 months concurrent for 4 breaches of s.13 of the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986. He was also disqualified from being a company director for the maximum of 15 years.
Russell Lee was given a 12-month prison sentence suspended for 2 years for the same breach of HSWA and a concurrent 6 months, also suspended, after pleading guilty to aiding and abetting O’Boyle in his disqualification.
Apart from possible criminal proceedings as highlighted in these examples, civil claims for compensation are also possible. It is likely that any insurance cover in place for such claims may be invalid where fraud, forgery or falsification has occurred.
The implications and action needed
The consequences of fraud, forgery and falsification are clear: they put lives at risk. They can give the impression that things are safe when they are not. There are numerous situations when fraud can occur and it is something that the HSE is alert to.
At a HSE Board meeting in 2013, it was minuted and noted that a significant proportion of asbestos clearance certificates were deficient in some way. There was a clear indication that the HSE believes that falsification of clearance certificate results may be involved in some cases.
The HSE has also issued a warning about the forgery of diving qualifications. This came after a diving supervisor received a police caution under the Fraud Act 2006 for signing blank pages of a diver's log book. The diver had subsequently falsified details of dives to make it look like he had the necessary experience needed for a Closed Bell course in Scotland.
Those responsible for managing health and safety need to be alert to the possibility of fraud. The following steps may help in fraud prevention.
Make sure when appointing contractors that the proper competence checks are carried out.
Carefully select those involved in signing statutory records and registers and audit their work.
Identify those situations where fraud is possible.
Establish procedures so that fraudulent behaviour is more difficult for individuals. This may involve countersigning procedures for particularly critical areas.
Monitor workloads and resources to remove the temptation of fraud.
Fraudulent behaviour provides a quick route to court and often prison but it can also result in serious harm. It must be stopped.