Health and safety regulation in Britain: Beyond fines and towards alternative punishments

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Sch for Policy Studies


The overall objective of this PhD is to use interviews and focus groups to gather evidence regarding whether current sanctions are sufficient for the control of safety crime - that being employer acts or omissions which violate health and safety law that either do, or have the potential to cause death or injury as a result of work-related activities - and whether alternative punishments like equity fines or community sentence orders are better adapted to punishing corporate offenders. This use of qualitative methods is chosen because unlike the already limited amount of research in this area, there have been no primary studies connecting the literature base to policy experts and public opinion. Year one will consist of preparing the literature review, theoretical chapter, methodology chapter, and the review panel documentation. Year two will then consist of the review panel, ethical review process, and data collection and data analysis stages. Lastly, year three will be the write up and discussion of the results, alongside any amendments to previous chapters.

In year two I will be aiming to conduct 25-30 interviews of professionals from the: Crown Prosecution Service, Health and Safety Executive, Ministry of Justice, Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register, Department for Work and Pensions, Home Office, Police Service, Court Judges, National Crime Agency, Hazards (the most prominent trade union health and safety magazine), Criminal Justice Alliance, NACRO: A Social justice charity, and two academics related to the subject (Steve Tombs, somewhat the godfather of safety crime, has already agreed to an interview). These interviews will be conducted in person if possible and last 45 minutes, although phone based interviews will also suffice. Second, I plan to conduct roughly 6 focus groups of 6-8 individuals of the public. I will use purposive sampling to contact individuals from community centres or potentially interested sectors such as construction companies. The rationale for conducting focus groups is that part of the Health and Safety Executive's prosecution guidelines rely upon a 'public interest test', see (HSE 2016). In essence, if there is a strong public will to punish offenders (including which punishments to use), this evidence will be useful in the overall analysis bearing on which punishments are deemed most successful. Both interviews and focus groups will be recorded so that I can transcribe the data using thematic analysis, in which I have been taught how to conduct qualitative research and analysis during my MSc Policy Research degree at the University of Bristol.

This proposal follows the conclusions made by Davis' (2004) major meta review, in that law enforcement is a required condition of effective safety protection. It also follows the conclusions of my master's dissertation project, which was a scoping review on safety crime regulation and punishment, concluding that sanctions which pierce the corporate veil (i.e. individual punishments like community sentence orders) have a greater chance of punishing and deterring corporate offenders. This proposal concurs with much of the literature regarding how corporate offenders should be punished (see Braithwaite 2000; Gobert and Punch 2003; Tombs and Whyte 2007), although it differs by being one of the very few studies to conduct primary analysis within this area. In other words, there is a lack of primary evidence regarding this topic, thus making this PhD a novel contribution in this area.


BRAITHWAITE, J., 2000. Regulation, Crime, Freedom. Aldershot: Ashgate.

GOBERT, J., & M. PUNCH, 2003. Rethinking Corporate Crime. Edinburgh: LexNexis Butterworths.

HEALTH AND SAFETY EXEUCTIVE. 2016. Public interest stage [online]. Available from: [Accessed 1 October 2017].

TOMBS, S., & D. WHYTE, 2007. Safety Crime. Cullompton: Willan Publishing.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
1930097 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/03/2021 Angus Kirk Ryan