Health & Safety

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Directors Health & Safety Duties Campaign

15 March 2010

The board of the Health and Safety Executive will soon decide whether or not to ask the government to create a legal health and safety duty on directors of companies and other organisations to protect the health and safety of their employees.

The TUC, CWU and all UK Trade Unions along with Safety Campaign Organisations, Health and Safety Professional bodies, HSW magazine and Health and Safety Bulletin believe that a positive duty would encourage senior executives to give safety a higher priority along with their financial responsibilities and raise safety standards in UK workplaces.

This belief was supported by the Parliamentary Select Committee on Work and Pensions in its 2008 report on "the role of the Health and Safety Commission" and by the Health and Safety Executive in "regulating workplace health and safety" and in Rita Donaghy's recent government-funded report "One Death is too Many" an Inquiry into the Underlying Causes of Construction Fatal Accidents". In 2000 the government's "Revitalising Health and Safety" Strategy document gave a commitment to introduce Directors legal health and Safety duties.

Not surprisingly Employers organisations are urging HSE board members to resist calls for new positive legal duties on directors!

The current voluntary approach to improving director accountability is not working. We desperately need another approach and one that will bring the responsibilities of company directors into line with all other employers under health and safety legislation, and one that will be of benefit not just to the work force but, as the HSE's own research shows, to good employers as well. We want to see a positive health and safety duty placed on all company directors to take all reasonable steps to ensure health and safety in all aspects of the company's activities-effectively to put them in the same position as all other employers and to remove a glaring anomaly in our health and safety laws.

David Bergman, the former director of the Centre for Corporate Accountability and one of the longest-standing advocates of directors' duties, points out:

"It has certainly been shown that even if the HSE puts more effort into holding directors to account - which is what they said they would do - this does not result in increased prosecution. This in part therefore indicates that it is a problem with the law, not just a lack of commitment to enforcement."

"Making it easier to prosecute will also mean that imposing duties will have a deterrent effect as directors will want to make sure that they don't face the courts."