Directors’ Responsibilities for Health and Safety
As a Board of Directors what are our responsibilities and legal obligations for health and safety management?
The board should accept publicly and formally its leadership role in health and safety within its organisation. It is vital that directors show by thought, word and deed that they fully embrace the principles of good health and safety management and promote a positive health and safety culture. Staff must hear from the top what is expected of them and how they comply and deliver. Directors must promote a positive health and safety ‘Culture’.
Each director should accept their role in implementing health and safety leadership within the organisation. The most concise and tangible document that shows this manifestation is the health and safety policy statement, which should be considered a live document and subject to regular reviews. Any mismatch between the text of this document and the attitude of the board will undermine employees’ belief in the integrity of the safety management system.
Many day to day business decisions, taken at the highest level have health and safety implications. Regrettably, too often organisations find themselves in the position of having to correct problems ‘Down the line’ that could have been addressed more easily and cheaply when the initial investment decisions were made.
Doing business with organisations who do not themselves manage safety effectively is to risk damage to reputation, lack of legal compliance, loss of business and failure to gain new business. It is vital that directors recognise their ‘Seamless’ responsibility for health and safety even when services are contracted out. Although safety management should be delegated, ultimate responsibility lies with the employer.
Managing risk effectively requires regular consultation with employees at all levels and securing their active, positive participation (not least in terms of decision making) is of pivotal importance. All workers have a legal duty, whilst at work, to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by their acts or omissions.
The Health and Safety commission recommends that one board member is appointed ‘Health & Safety Director’ and in particular to ensure that:
- Health and safety performance is reviewed at least annually.
- The health and safety policy statement accurately reflects current priorities and corporate structure.
- A system is in position to check, monitor and report on safety performance at all levels.
The board is kept informed on any significant accident, incident of other significant safety failures together with their causes.
Critically, the Chairman and / or Chief Executive should ensure that the Health and Safety Director has the necessary competence, support, resources and training to fulfil the role effectively.
Responsibility for ensuring the health and safety or employees and for reducing risk to others is specified in sections 2 and 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
Preparation and implementation of a written health and safety is a fundamental requirement. These general duties are expanded in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, which include requirements that employers:
- Assess work-related risk factors faced by employees and by people not in their employment.
- Have effective arrangements in place for planning, organising, controlling, monitoring and reviewing preventative and protective measures.
- Appoint one or more ‘Competent Person’ to help in undertaking measures needed to comply with health and safety law.
Provide employees with relevant and comprehensible information on the risks they face and the preventative and protective measures that control those risks. Employers must consult employees in good time about any issue that may affect their health and safety.
Where a ‘Body corporate’ commits a health and safety offence, and the offence was committed with the consent or connivance of, or was attributable to any neglect on the part of, any director, manager, secretary etc. then that person (as well as the body corporate) is liable (section 37, Health and Safety at Work Act 1974).