In the 1980s it was estimated that only 25-30% of commercial and industrial outlets carried out periodic electrical inspection and testing. Now the figure is estimated at around 80% or more.
Yet that still leaves around 20% of commercial and industrial premises not taking electrical safety seriously, despite being nearly 30 years on from the implementation of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 (the EAWR). When speaking to existing customers that use our other inspection, testing and certification services about their electrical safety needs, we are still met with a number of customers who question why they need to carry out periodic electrical inspection and testing.
First and foremost, there is the moral obligation to protect your employees against death or injury. Yet many employers probably hope or believe that such consequences won’t happen in their place of work and commercial pressures can often frustrate any good intentions.
However, as we set out below, the statistics tell a different picture and there are very strong legal and commercial reasons why dutyholders should ignore electrical safety at their peril.
Your legal duty
The EAWR places a number of duties on employers to prevent injuries or deaths that may arise from electrical faults in the workplace. Whilst inspections and testing are not specifically mentioned in the act, the ‘Memorandum of Guidance on the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 [HS(R)25]’ (‘The Guidance’) does require this: ‘Regular inspection of equipment is an essential part of any preventative maintenance programme.’ (para 68).
Electrical injuries and deaths: the statistics and why you can no longer afford to ignore risks
Fire statistics show that over a ten year period from 2003/4 to 2013/14, there were 2,823 industrial premises fires, causing 102 casualties and 1 fatality.
The fact is, electrical fires do happen – and they are more likely to occur in workplaces where electrical safety is overlooked.
The new Sentencing Guidelines have changed how the courts deal with offenders under the Act. Companies are now sentenced based on whether there was a ‘low, ‘medium’ or ‘high’ level of risk as a result of their non-compliance, not on the harm that actually occurred. Sentences are also based on the degree of culpability, ranging from ‘low’ to ‘very high’,
In practice this means that where a death occurs due to extremely poor management practice there is a significant chance that there will be a police led investigation, followed by a Crown Court prosecution.
Guilty until proven innocent – and the very real threat of corporate AND personal prosecution
Dutyholders would be unwise to ignore The Guidance, as in a court of law employers will only be able to provide a defence to claims of negligence if they can prove that they “took all reasonable steps and exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of that offence”.
Note the word ‘prove’. Unlike in criminal law, with health and safety prosecutions the onus is on the defendant to prove their defence. Any deviance away from best practice (which ‘The Guidance’ provides) is likely to require a strong justification.
Offences committed under the EAWR can result in up to a £20,000 fine for each offence dealt with in a Magistrates Court (i.e. for more minor offences) or unlimited fines and/or prison sentences if dealt with by the Crown Court i.e. for more serious offences.
Senior management themselves can also find themselves in the dock and recent research shows a three-fold increase in directors and senior managers being prosecuted. This is only likely to increase following the new Sentencing Guidelines that move the focus from harm that occurred to risk of occurrence when assessing culpability.
In one incident, a foreman was electrocuted as a result of an inadequately laid cable being crushed leading to an RCD repeatedly tripping because of the fault being by-passed.
The managing director was personally fined £5,000 and disqualified from being a company director for 3 years. The electrical contractors were fined £30,000 and the construction company was fined £97,000.
Your insurance company will usually require periodic inspections and testing (and will not pay out on personal injury claims if you fail to do so)
Your place of work does not need to experience a major electrical safety issue to result in a claim, they can result from minor incidents. Whilst minor, personal injury claims can quickly add up when your medical bills and loss of earnings claims are factored in.
If you did not comply with the relevant health and safety legislation, your insurance will not cover the cost of the claim. Most insurance policies will provide express provision for this in the contract.
Increased insurance premiums
The severity and number of previous health and safety breaches is a key factor in determining insurance premiums. Some insurers even provide rebates to those who can demonstrate a proactive and effective approach to health and safety.
Following a corporate manslaughter conviction there will usually be a publicity order as well as a fine. This means that a judge can specify how the convicted organisation must publicise the fact, such as through an advert in a paper, details included in the company annual report or a radio/TV apology.
The negative consequences of adverse publicity cannot be underestimated. It is no coincidence that large organisations will employ top lawyers to negotiate increased fines in exchange for avoiding an adverse publicity order.
As you can see, complying with safety through periodic electrical inspection and testing benefits businesses commercially. To avoid the perils of non-compliance, discover exactly what steps dutyholders need to take to fulfil their duties under the EAWR with our guide: