EveryMonth (Dec 2011): Health & Safety: A ‘hard hat area’ for Company Directors

The law & the risks

The Health and Safety Offences Act 2008 came into force in January 2009, toughening sentencing for offences under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The new legislation includes the option of imprisonment for breaches of duties owed under the 1974 Act including Sections 2 and 3 which cover duties to employees and anyone affected by an undertaking’s business activities.

Plainly a company cannot be imprisoned and so these provisions are specifically targeted at directors and senior managers.

HSE get tough

The HSE have recently been placing greater emphasis upon prosecutions under Section 37 of the 1974 Act which states that where a company has committed an offence, and that offence is proved to have been committed ‘with the consent or connivance of, or……attributable to the neglect on the part of any director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body corporate, he, as well as well as the body corporate shall be guilty of that offence.’

Previously, imprisonment was only possible for gross negligence and manslaughter, but now serious individual breaches of health and safety legislation by directors and senior managers are imprisonable. What’s more, the HSE is keen to prove the deterrent effect of these provisions by launching individual prosecutions where appropriate and possible. Directors should take these provisions very seriously

What should you do?

There are a number of practical steps that a company can take to minimise the risks of directors and senior management being prosecuted. They include the following:

  • Ensuring that there is a nominated Board director specifically in charge of health and safety.
  • Making certain that directors report at periodic intervals (of no more than six months) on the company’s health and safety performance and any major health and safety issues.
  • Ensuring there is a clear line of reporting right from the workforce to director level and this is not broken at any point.
  • Giving all directors at least some basic training in health and safety law and management.
  • Making sure any issues with the local environmental health department or HSE are immediately reported to Board level and remain on the Board agenda until resolved.
  • Ensuring health and safety is seen as a corporate priority, and high standards are maintained throughout all levels of the workforce, with proper risk assessment, allocation of responsibility, and training.

You should take professional advice if unsure about any aspect of your health and safety responsibilities.