Safety Innovation Video Series: How can lawyers help with health and safety?

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Safety Innovation Video Series: How can lawyers help with health and safety?

Posted on 23 June 2024

In our latest Safety Innovation Video Series, we speak with Mary Lawrence, partner at international law firm Osborne and Clark, about how lawyers can help with health and safety, how to instruct a lawyer, and managing legal costs.

I’m Mary Lawrence. I’m a partner at Osborne Clarke, which is an international law firm, and I head up our regulatory health and safety team.

How can lawyers help with health and safety?

Health and safety lawyers or, in fact, all lawyers are trained to communicate. We are trained to look at detail and to make sure that things are evidenced. So, we can add real value in looking at policies and simply use those broad skills. And in fact, you don't have to be a health and safety lawyer to be able to add real value there. So, we are specialists in knowing about the health and safety executive, the police, local authorities who will investigate in this area, and being able to support through investigation processes, and ultimately, risks of prosecution.

What kind of support might I request from a lawyer?

The type of support that you might request from a lawyer might be, for instance, coming along to speak to a board about what their legal duties are, and advising them on risks associated with health and safety issues. You might pick up the phone if you're worried about an incident or a near miss and about a regulator coming in. Or it might be that you really want to sense check; something new is happening in your business, you're looking at a project or a safety campaign, and you really want some support in issue spotting around health and safety legal issues.

What is the first step when instructing a lawyer?

One of the important questions that might get overlooked is, are you actually authorised to instruct a lawyer in your role? So, I would check that. If you have an internal lawyer, for instance, they might like to be the person who instructs, and you might go to them first. But if you do have the authority, what I would say is think really carefully about what is the support that you need or what is the question that you want to have answered. A good lawyer should be able to help you do that, but you could save yourself some time and money by thinking about that and making that inquiry early on.

How can an in-house lawyer help?

In-house lawyers are trained as, usually, as commercial lawyers. They'll be really well-respected in the business, often really well-connected, and they know how to get things done; so they can be a really useful ally to a health and safety professional who is possibly trying to navigate some of those intricacies of a business.

How do I manage legal costs?

Yes, lawyers can be expensive. There are various ways that you can mitigate that or keep that cost down. The first is ask whether you actually need a lawyer externally or whether you have somebody in-house. Secondly, you might have insurance cover for that lawyer, particularly, if you're looking to engage them after an incident. You're likely to have cover under your employer's liability, your public liability, or even your directors' and officers' liability. In the event that you do obtain legal advice externally, then the important thing is to think really clearly about how you want to use a lawyer and what for. You ask them how much it's going to cost, you agree terms, and from there, you can then make sure that delivering within cost. One important thing to note is that if your instructions change or broaden, of course, that's going to increase your costs. But just keep the conversation open. Nobody likes to talk about money, but it is important in these scenarios so that they don't run away with you.

 

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