A health and safety lawyer has advised businesses not to relax their standards, even though prosecutions for breaching health and safety laws may be at record low levels, according to the Law Society of Scotland.

The Society was quoting Bruce Craig, of the law firm Pinsent Masons, who recently analysed figures which show the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted just under 400 cases in the UK in 2018/19, the lowest number for five years and a drop of 23% on the previous year. The number of cases taken to court has dropped by over a third since 2014/15's total of 600.

The analysis also shows that HSE inspectors are taking longer to complete investigations, with 65% of fatal investigations completed within 12 months of the incident, compared to 81% the year before, while total fines issued for health and safety offences in the same period dropped from £71.6 million to £54.5 million.

Mr Craig, a partner in Pinsent Masons’ Aberdeen office who specialises in health and safety, shipping and commercial disputes, said the decline could be down to the requirement for inspectors to be more thorough in their investigations in recent years.

He was quoted by the Law Society of Scotland as commenting, “The HSE has indicated a factor in the fall in prosecutions could be a larger than normal number of inspectors in training, but it could also be that higher standards applied to investigations than was the case some years ago…

“While the figures are surprising, they may be indicative of an increased safety culture in UK business resulting in fewer accidents. It certainly would be wrong and short-sighted for businesses to believe that fewer prosecutions mean that standards can slip with impunity. Simply put, the law will catch up eventually and standards have to remain high not only to comply with the law, but also on a moral basis to keep everyone as safe as possible.”

Last reviewed 10 January 2020