Health and safety ‘crimes’ in Britain: the great disappearing act

Tombs, Steve (2014). Health and safety ‘crimes’ in Britain: the great disappearing act. In: Davies, Pamela; Francis, Peter and Wyatt, Tanya eds. Invisible Crimes and Social Harms. London: Palgrave, pp. 198–220.



This chapter provides an (empirically informed) reminder of the fact that for politicians, the media, the wider public and, indeed, some academics, some crimes are less visible than others. Moreover, as will be demonstrated, this relative lack of visibility is not static, but dynamic, while at the same time it is always subject to contest and struggle.

The focus here is on the regulation and enforcement of occupational health and safety in workplaces in the United Kingdom, with a particular emphasis upon developments since the turn of the century. The chapter sets out the wider policy context for these considerations before turning to its central task: a presentation of various forms of data relating to trends in enforcement over the first decade of this millennium. It then examines the extent to which such trends are likely to continue or indeed be intensified under the Coalition Government. Finally, the chapter will note what appears to be a development that sits in tension with the general picture of decriminalisation which this chapter will paint: namely, the introduction in 2008 of a new criminal offence of corporate manslaughter. Prior to these tasks, it is worth turning to a brief consideration of the scale of the problem of "health and safety".

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