ORGANISATION - 18.05.2010

New directors’ duties shelved

An attempt was recently made to introduce additional health and safety legislation to impose strict liability on directors. However, as we predicted, it failed. So what does this mean for directors - are they off the hook?

Background

You’d be forgiven for losing track of all the proposals for new directors’ duties. After all, there have been numerous calls for new legislation over recent years, as well as the Private Member’s Bill we reported on in April, which proposed additional responsibilities to be added to the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA) ((read more about this), see The next step). However, any ideas for new health and safety duties were shelved by the government shortly before Parliament was dissolved for the election.

Note. The Private Members Bill was debated in Parliament in January and received majority support. However, due to the election, the Health and Safety (Company Director Liability) Bill didn’t make it through to its scheduled second reading.

Need for a change?

The pressure for a change to the law has been considerable, including recommendations from the Parliamentary Select Committee on Work and Pensions, as well as from the TUC, Institution of Occupational Safety and Health and many others. So what is likely to happen now?

Top of the pile

Although new legislation is unlikely, this doesn’t mean that directors should assume they’re off the hook; the truth couldn’t be more different. This is because there are already many pieces of legislation that impose strict duties on directors; notably the HSWA. It requires those in a position to direct and control the finances of a business (which in many cases means a director) to ensure suitable resources are allocated to health and safety.

Note. Those that fail to address this face tough penalties. This includes imprisonment for the worst offenders.

What should directors do?

Put simply, directors should get involved and lead on health and safety matters. We’re not saying that they need to start completing risk assessments themselves, but they should make sure that someone within the company is doing them and that staff are following the prescribed control measures.

Tip 1. Make sure that the board and individual directors have clear responsibilities. You can achieve this by including these in the health and safety policy (see The next step).

Tip 2. Health and safety should become a standing item on the board agenda. Serious incidents and near-misses should be considered, along with health and safety issues arising from staff concerns or inspections.

Tip 3. Keep records of director involvement in health and safety issues. For example, where money has been allocated, training agreed etc. The easiest way of doing this is to record the details in board meeting minutes.

For a free sample “ directors’ responsibilities” section of a health and safety policy, visit http://healthandsafety.indicator.co.uk (HS 08.18.03).
Although new legislation is unlikely, under the existing law directors can already be held to account. Identify responsibilities in your health and safety policy, make health and safety a standing item on your board meeting agenda and ensure that sufficient budget, staffing and equipment are allocated.

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