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September 22, 2011

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Disqualify directors who ignore well-being, say Lib Dems

Company directors should be disqualified for serious cases of failing to protect their employees’ well-being, according to a new policy paper from the Liberal Democrats.

Presented at the party’s annual conference this week, the paper details the Lib Dems’ proposals to improve people’s quality of life and well-being. Several proposals concern the workplace, with the party recognising that employers should take action to make their workplaces better environments in which to work, and measure this through employee satisfaction.

It suggests, for example, that employers should implement measures that allow staff to gain a sense of control over how they carry out the task they are doing, and increase flexible-working arrangements. By 2014, it wants to see the 9000, or so largest organisations – which, together, employ half of the UK workforce – report on employee satisfaction and the extent of flexible working.

It also believes that a new National Institute for Well-being should be set up and tasked with creating a way to report this information in an accessible way, so that employers will be encouraged to use it to improve their well-being performance.

Although the Lib Dems argue that these policies should be implemented through cultural change rather than compulsion, the party does believe that the existing power to disqualify an individual from being a company director for financial impropriety should be extended to serious failure to protect employees’ well-being.

According to an HSE-commissioned report published in 2007 on the effectiveness of the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986, company directors are almost 300 times more likely to be disqualified by a court from acting as a director for financial reasons than for breaching health and safety rules. Researchers from the University of Warwick found that, up to 2005, just ten directors had been disqualified for health and safety breaches, while some 1500 were disqualified for insolvency, or other financial reasons over the same period.

In a speech at the Liberal Democrat conference, the party’s deputy leader, Simon Hughes, said “a new attitude to work could make the biggest change” to quality of life and well-being.

He said: “In the UK, we have one of the most unequal distributions of work in the developed world. Almost four out of every ten men and nearly one out of every eight women work more than 45 hours a week – more than twice as many as our western European neighbours.

“This is a particular problem in the financial sector and at the top of large businesses, where many people work extremely long hours accumulating huge amounts of money, which they barely have the time to spend. At the same time, we also have one of the highest rates of people who work less than 20 hours a week.”

Calling for a radical redistribution of work, he added: “Overwork has hugely damaging consequences for families, relationships and the quality of personal and community life. Lack of work is one of the biggest causes of poverty and poor physical and mental health.”

He concluded: “If we really want to make a difference to quality of life in our country, we need also to tackle inequality of wealth by tackling inequality of work.”

Despite calls for the Institute of Directors/HSE code of practice on directors’ duties to be made statutory, it remains voluntary.

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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12 years ago

Ideally cultural change and greater concern and appreciation for better quality OHS procedures and workers’ safety is the optimal way to effect change, as it results in a better work climate. On the other hand, I there is a definite need for a power to disqualify an individual from being a company director where there is a serious failure to protect employees’ well-being.

12 years ago

Some mixed messages here me thinks. As it stands very few directors are disqualified for serious health and safety breaches. So, not much chance of disqualification being applied for ‘softer’ issues like workplace welfare and well-being initiatives.

Relying on ‘cultural change’ as opposed to regualtion is a complete waste of time. Sadly employers will only do what they are duty bound to do, nothing more, and sometimes a lot less. I think it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee…

12 years ago

There is a huge difference between protecting workers from health risks at work and promoting well-being. Implementation of HSWA and COSHH and occupational health advice can achieve the former in an objective way. More prosecutions for H&S breaches would reinforce the message. But to apply the same stick to the subjective issue of well-being measured by staff satisfaction surveys is over the top and inappropriate. Stick to using the carrot; well-being improves health, attendance and productivity

12 years ago

I am ‘gobsmacked’. Of course HSE issues should be a priority – without question.

One has to beg the question where HSE remains in terms of our troops – sent to war – on the basis of ‘oil’ (though this wasn’t what they/we were told). They/we were lied to.

How can you expect a government that lies – has been proven to exploit it’s voters (expenses scandal) to give a damn about health and safety – whatever they might say.