law firm warns companies to pay 'without prejudice'
A leading law firm has counselled businesses to be wary of paying invoices issued by the Health and Safety Executive under the Fee for Intervention (FFI) scheme in case this is subsequently used against a company as evidence of health and safety breaches.
Pinsent Masons has complained that the HSE may be responding to cuts in its budget by generating revenue through the FFI scheme. The latter is intended to offset the costs of health and safety inspections for the authority. The authority's budget was cut by 35 per cent in 2011. Since the introduction of the FFI scheme in October 2012 the number of inspections carried out by the HSE has increased by around 6 per cent, equal to an extra 1,200 visits.
Why Would an Inspector Visit Me?
In FFI cases it is the decision of the individual inspector whether or not a material breach of health and safety regulations has occurred and consequently whether a FFI will be levied. The law firm said that inspectors may be minded to assess companies harshly when declaring that breaches have occurred in or-der to generate revenue. In terms of the cost of health and safety inspections, according to HSE figures the executive sends FFI invoices to between 2,500 and 3,500 companies every two months with average bills typically between £450 and £550. As general legal advice the firm is advising businesses to make any FFI payments 'without prejudice' - without admitting any liability for a breach as protection in the event of any future legal action.
Is the FFI Scheme Here to Stay?
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) introduced the FFI in October 2012. This initiative enables the authority to recover costs accrued when taking action against companies and it covers inspections, investigations and any enforcement action. The FFI cost of the health and safety inspections is calculated at a rate of £124 per hour multiplied by the number of hours the HSE spends on the case. However, the FFI is only levied against those businesses who are found to be in material breach of health and safety laws - when a written notice has been sent.
The government commissioned an independent review of the work of the HSE in January of this year. Martin Temple, who authored the subsequent report, recommended removing the link between fines and funding in the scheme to protect the integrity of the authority or if this could not be done, to get rid of the FFI completely. Further to this a review panel has also been looking into the work of the HSE and is due to publish its findings over the new few weeks.