Ipswich law firm Birketts hosts health and safety conference

Birketts' health and safety conference in Newmarket on Thursday, June 8.

Birketts' health and safety conference in Newmarket on Thursday, June 8. - Credit: Birketts

Agriculture and other industry sectors were warned that judges are handing out higher sentences for breaches of health and safety law at an event organised by an East Anglian legal practice this week.

Birketts partner Laura Thomas. Picture: Birketts

Birketts partner Laura Thomas. Picture: Birketts - Credit: Birketts

Legal experts from Ipswich-based law firm Birketts, which hosted the health and safety conference at Newmarket Racecourse on Thursday, June 8, were joined by panel members including Tim Papworth, a director at Norfolk contract farming business LF Papworth.

Also among the guest speakers were deputy district judge Briony Clarke, traffic commissioner Richard Turfitt, construction firm Skanska's health and safety manager Joel Frorath, Health and Safety Executive principal inspector Chris Taylor and Hutchinson Ports UK's head of health and safety Eddie Scoggins.

Barrister and Birketts partner Laura Thomas, who is part of the firm's corporate criminal defence team, led the event, which looked at sentencing guidelines and how health and safety was being dealt with by the courts, including increases in fines handed down.

'We are finding it's being pitched higher,' explained Ms Thomas.

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'Judges are definitely following the guidelines and very much in so doing sentences are very much higher than they were two years ago.

'Industries like agriculture really need to sit up and listen to what the courts are saying about it.'

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The day also looked at health, including treatment of hazardous substances such as asbestos, but also good health practice.

Breakout sessions examined workplace issues such as drinking, drugs, smoking, and mental health and anxiety and how these are tackled.

'It's very much a sharing of experiences between the delegates in the group,' she said, adding that the focus was on giving delegates practical tips on how to deal with the issues.

Health and safety specialists debated whether promoting wellbeing was 'a step too far' or necessary to ensure the health and safety of employees.

'A health issue could lead to an accident, so if you are not tackling the fact that your employees have a problem with drinking and they then have an accident on a piece of machinery, that could play in,' said Ms Thomas.

'We think it's a really important area that's sometimes neglected.'

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