As Directors and business owners hopefully you are aware of your Health and Safety responsibilities and are aware that the primary piece of legislation for Health and Safety in the UK is the Health and Safety at Work Act.
This sets out the Health and Safety responsibilities for employers and employees to follow. Have you actually taken the time when walking past the poster on your walls to stop and read what it says? If you haven’t, we suggest you do just that, we encourage all of our clients to do this with their colleagues as a Tool Box Talk. (These may need to be modified currently to take into account social distancing)
Protecting the health and safety of employees or members of the public who may be affected by your activities is an essential part of risk management and must be led from the top of your organisation.
It is extremely important for business owners to start acting on and reviewing their risk assessments for all activities NOW during this Covid situation.
Failure to include health and safety as a key business risk in management decisions can have catastrophic results. Many high-profile safety cases over the years have been rooted in failures of leadership.
Health and safety law places duties on organisations and employers and directors can be personally liable when these duties are breached: members of the board have both collective and individual responsibility for health and safety.
These following principles are intended to underpin the actions and so lead to good health and safety performance.
Strong and active leadership from the top:
- visible, active commitment from the board or business owner/partners
- establishing effective ‘downward’ communication systems and management structures;
- integration of good health and safety management with business decisions.
- engaging the workforce in the promotion and achievement of safe and healthy conditions;
- effective ‘upward’ communication;
- providing high-quality training.
Assessment and review:
- identifying and managing health and safety risks;
- accessing (and following) competent advice;
- monitoring, reporting and reviewing performance.
Health and safety responsibilities are often viewed by business owners as an unnecessary burden. It does not need to be that way as the benefits of good health and safety can offer significant opportunities.
Significant Opportunities that include:
- reduced costs and reduced risks – employee absence and turnover rates are lower, accidents are fewer, the threat of legal action is lessened;
- improved standing among suppliers and partners;
- a better reputation for corporate responsibility among investors, customers and
- increased productivity – employees are healthier, happier and better motivated.
Costs of poor health and safety at work reveal the human and financial cost of failing to address health and safety.
Poor Health and Safety Management at work will see:
- Millions of working days are lost due to work-related illness and injury.
- Thousands of people die from occupational diseases.
- Around a million workers self-report suffering from a work-related illness.
- Several hundred thousand workers are injured at work.
- A worker is fatally injured almost every working day.
Organisations can incur further costs – such as uninsured losses and loss of reputation.
Legal responsibilities of employers
Health and safety law states that employers must:
- assess risks to employees, customers, partners and any other people who could be affected by their activities;
- arrange for the effective planning, organisation, control, monitoring and review of preventive and protective measures;
- have a written health and safety policy if they have five or more employees;
- ensure they have access to competent health and safety advice;
- consult employees about their risks at work and current preventive and protective
Failure to comply with these health and safety responsibilities and requirements can have serious consequences – for both organisations and individuals. Sanctions include fines, imprisonment and disqualification.
Under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, an offence will be committed where failings by an organisation’s senior management are a substantial element in any gross breach of the duty of care owed to the organisation’s employees or members of the public, which results in death.
The maximum penalty is an unlimited fine and the court can additionally make a publicity order requiring the organisation to publish details of its conviction and fine.
“Health and safety is a fundamental part of business. Boards need someone with passion and energy to ensure it stays at the core of the organisation.”
Plan, Do Check, Act are the key principles of a successful, practical and proportionate safety system.
The board should set the direction for effective health and safety management. Board members need to establish a health and safety policy that is much more than a document – it should be an integral part of your organisation’s culture. Health and Safety responsibilities should be planned for and communicated to staff across the business.
All board members should take the lead in ensuring the communication of health and safety duties and benefits throughout the organisation. Executive Directors must develop policies to avoid health and safety problems. Where they arise a quick response to new risks are introduced; non-executives must make sure that health and safety is properly addressed.
What planning could look like:
- Health and safety should appear regularly on the agenda for board meetings.
- The chief executive can give the clearest visibility of leadership, but some boards find it useful to name one of their number as the health and safety ‘champion’.
- The presence on the board of a health and safety director can be a strong signal that the issue is being taken seriously and that its strategic importance is understood.
- Setting targets helps define what the board is seeking to achieve.
- A non-executive director can act as a scrutineer – ensuring the processes to support boards facing significant health and safety risks are robust.
Delivery depends on an effective management system that ensures so far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of employees, customers and members of the public.
Organisations must aim to protect people by introducing management systems and practices that ensure risks are dealt with sensibly, responsibly and proportionately.
How to do the Do!
- Leadership is more effective if visible board members can reinforce health and safety policy by being seen on the ‘shop floor’, following all safety measures themselves and addressing any breaches immediately.
- Consider health and safety when deciding senior management appointments.
- Having procurement standards for goods, equipment and services can help prevent the introduction of expensive health and safety hazards.
- The health and safety arrangements of partners, key suppliers and contractors should be assessed; their performance could adversely affect yours.
- Setting up a separate risk management or health and safety committee as a subset of the board, chaired by a senior executive, can make sure the key issues are addressed and guard against time and effort being wasted on trivial risks and unnecessary bureaucracy.
- Providing health and safety training to some or all of the board can promote understanding and knowledge of the key issues in your organisation.
- Supporting worker involvement in health and safety can improve participation and help prove your commitment.
Time to Check
Monitoring and reporting are vital parts of a health and safety culture. Management systems must allow the board to receive both specific (e.g. incident-led) and routine reports on the performance of health and safety policy.
Much day-to-day health and safety information need be reported only at the time of a formal review. But only a strong system of monitoring can ensure that the formal review can proceed as planned – and that relevant events in the interim are brought to the board’s attention.
How to check effectively
- Effective monitoring of sickness absence and workplace health can alert the board to underlying problems that could seriously damage performance or result in accidents and long-term illness.
- The collection of workplace health and safety data can allow the board to benchmark the organisation’s performance against others in its sector.
- Appraisals of senior managers can include an assessment of their contribution to health and safety performance.
- Boards can receive regular reports on the health and safety performance and actions of contractors
- Some organisations have found they win greater support for health and safety by involving workers in monitoring.
Time to Act
A formal boardroom review of health and safety performance is essential. It allows the board to establish whether the essential health and safety principles – strong and active leadership, worker involvement, and assessment and review – have been embedded in the organisation. It tells you whether your system is effective in managing risk and protecting people.
How it can be done
- Performance on health and safety and well-being is increasingly being recorded in organisations’ annual reports to investors and stakeholders.
- Board members can make extra ‘shop floor’ visits to gather information for the formal review.
- Good health and safety performance can be celebrated at central and local level.
With BHP onboard and supporting your business we will help you and be involved with every stage of Plan, Do, Check, Act and ensure that your business is as compliant as possible. This does mean that you need to work with us we are not a magic bullet!
A few words of warning
Legal liability of individual board members for health and safety failures If a health and safety offence is committed with the consent or connivance of, or is attributable to any neglect on the part of, any director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the organisation, then that person (as well as the organisation) can be prosecuted under section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. Recent case law has confirmed that directors cannot avoid a charge of neglect under section 37 by arranging their organisation’s business so as to leave them ignorant of circumstances which would trigger their obligation to address health and safety breaches.
Those found guilty are liable for fines and imprisonment. In addition, the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986, section 2(1), empowers the court to disqualify an individual convicted of an offence in connection with the management of a company. This includes health and safety offences.
This power is exercised at the discretion of the court; it requires no additional investigation or evidence.
Individual directors are also potentially liable for other related offences, such as the common law offence of gross negligence manslaughter.
Under the common law, gross negligence manslaughter is proved when individual officers of a company (directors or business owners) cause death by their own grossly negligent behaviour. This offence is punishable by an unlimited fine and a maximum of life imprisonment.
For further information on your Health and Safety responsibilities as a Director please click here.