The Government is planning to massively cut the £18bn annual bill that accidents and ill-health at work cost British industry by introducing stern new penalties against transgressing companies.

In the biggest health and safety shake-up for 25 years, the Health and Safety Commission has unveiled a ten-point strategy and a 44-point action plan in a bid to eradicate sloppy health and safety procedures.

It includes tougher penalties such as making imprisonment widely available for most health and safety crimes, extending the maximum £20,000 fine available in the lower court to most health and safety offences, and innovative new fines that are linked to turover and prohibit bonuses.

There is no legislative timetable to date, but the action plan pro-actively promotes a range of risk management procedures. The insurance industry will be consulted on using incentives to reward good performers.

The Government has announced ambitious targets for cutting work-related deaths, ill-health and injury by 2010. Half of them are to be achieved by 2004. The full targets include:

  • reduce the number of working days lost from work-related injury and ill health by 30% (a decrease of 7.5m working days on current estimates).
  • reduce the incidence of people suffering from work-related ill-health by 20% (80,000 fewer new cases on current estimates).
  • reduce the rate of fatal and major injury accidents by 10% (3,000 fewer cases on current figures)

    Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott said: "Bill Callaghan (HSC Chairman) and I are writing to stakeholders in the health and safety business with a strong message – they must never ignore their responsibilities and the rights of workers. The consequence in future could well be prison."

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