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February 1, 2010

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EEF claims “sea change” in directors’ involvement in health and safety

Active leadership on health and safety is now the norm, not the exception. This is the message the EEF is sending out, following the results of a survey of nearly 400 manufacturing organisations.

The findings suggest there has been a major increase in board engagement in managing health and safety risks over the last three years, and the EEF argues this is evidence that statutory director duties are unnecessary and could be counter-productive.

Senior management involvement in health and safety has risen by more than a third since 2006, across every one of the survey’s measures. The measure with the lowest starting point – monitoring health and safety performance through key performance indicators – has seen the largest increase, rising by more than 50 per cent.

Other key findings include:

  • 81 per cent of boards discuss health and safety as a regular item, compared with 58 per cent in 2006;
  • 91 per cent of companies state the health and safety responsibilities of senior managers in their health and safety policy, as opposed to 77 per cent in 2006; and
  • 80 per cent of companies are spending more time on health and safety than they were four years ago.

Steve Pointer, head of health and safety at the EEF, said: “Our survey confirms that there has been a sea change in director involvement – active leadership is now very definitely the norm, not the exception.”

The EEF puts the apparent improvement in boardroom engagement down to recent legal changes – i.e. the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act and the Health and Safety (Offences) Act – insurance considerations, and campaigning on the importance of leadership by the HSE and other organisations.

The HSE will soon decide on whether to propose new duties on directors, a recommendation also made in Rita Donaghy’s report on construction deaths, on which the Government is also due to respond. However, the EEF wants the HSE to stick with the current approach.

Pointer told SHP that the Donaghy report fails to consider whether existing legislation is being used to prosecute in all instances in which it is appropriate. He explained: “A consistent, robust approach is needed and, on balance, we believe that more s37 prosecutions should be taken. Inspectors need greater support in investigating cases against individuals. Some of this will come from the Police’s lead in investigations of suspected corporate manslaughter.”
Highlighting the potential problems a new law on directors’ responsibilities might cause, he said: “If very general in nature, it would make little practical change to the current duty. If specific, it would lead to unintended consequences, incentivising directors to concentrate on paperwork to protect them from prosecution instead of practical action to protect employees from harm.”

But Thompsons Solicitors argued that there already exists a box-ticking mentality, and that it persists because of the lack of a specific duty.

The firm’s head of policy and public affairs, Tom Jones, said: “A positive duty which, for example, requires a company director to take action to inform themselves of any offence being committed by the company, or to take steps to prevent offences being committed, is unlikely to be satisfied by box-ticking. It would be a foolish board and employer to think it can get away with doing no more than that.

“Indeed it is precisely because of this approach to workplace health and safety in the past that a positive statutory duty is needed.”

The EEF is also urging the HSE to redouble its efforts to simplify existing health and safety requirements and reduce unnecessary bureaucracy, after the survey showed reduced confidence in both regulation and regulators.

Agreement with all positive survey statements about legal requirements on health and safety has dropped by more than 10 percentage points. Similarly, fewer respondents agreed that inspectors’ advice is helpful, or viewed their relationship with enforcement authorities in a positive light.

The EEF concedes that the recession may have played a part in the decline in confidence, “with increased tensions in agreeing timescales for required improvements”. However, it cautions the HSE to consider its findings and ensure that this does not develop into a long-term trend.



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