The Health and Safety Offences Act comes into force today, threatening company directors found responsible of work-related accidents with up to two years in prison

Hillary Cohen, a partner in lawyer LG Legal’s construction group, said time would tell whether the act would work as it was supposed to, but that it would make directors “sit up and pay attention”.

Diane Johnson, director of electrical contractor Eric Johnson of Northwich, said she was worried that the legislation would penalise employers who had worked hard to prevent accidents. She said: “If you have taught your worker and given him the correct equipment, and your man goes against what you have taught him, then there should be a defence for the employer.”

The unions have welcomed the act, but say it remains to be seen how much it will affect workplace safety. Alan Ritchie, general secretary of Ucatt, said: “This is a step forward but it will not transform health and safety. It is still imperative that statutory directors’ duties are introduced.”

Jan Burgess, a partner in health and safety at Cameron McKenna, said: “From personal experience, I have seen that health and safety is something that firms are cutting back on in the recession, and those that do are potentially going to get a big shock.”

Bob Blackman

“If imprisonment isn’t actually applied, and the courts stick to fairly moderate fines as they usually do, then the act won’t really make any difference”

Luke Wessley

“The act will certainly focus the mind. It will make employers have a knowledge of what procedures they have in place already”

Diane Johnson

“The worry is that in the recession, health and safety could become a commercial decision for some companies”