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Directors Duties - HSC's Decision, October 2003
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HSC meeting, October 2003

In October 2003, the Health and Safety Commission discussed whether or not it should recomend that legal duties should be imposed upon company directors. The evaluation (see above) into the voluntary guidance had just been published.

Prior to the discussion, the HSE wrote a paper for the Commission on directors duties and others issues relating to a paper on 'Corporate Accountability'. This gave the following three options:

i. continue with the existing ‘voluntary’ approach; or
ii. enhance the present voluntary approach by, for example, re-invigorating the current HSC guidance and seek through publicity, case studies and conferences to influence those directors and organisations currently not providing direction and leadership on health and safety; OR
iii. undertake work to develop legislative options bearing in mind the lack of consensus in support of legislation and challenge of differing points of view and no indication that legislative time could be found.

To read the whole section on directors duties, Click Here. To download the full minutes, click here

The minutes of the October 2003 meeting show that the HSC decided against a legislative approach

"Corporate Responsibility and Accountability for Occupational Health and Safety: A progress report on HSC/E initiatives and measures (HSC/03/105):
5.1 Elizabeth Gyngell introduced the paper. The paper reported progress on a range of measures put in place by HSC/E over the last three years aimed at promoting greater corporate responsibility and accountability for health and safety . The Commission’s advice was sought on the current voluntary approach and on further work that was being proposed. A note from the CBI giving its views of this subject was circulated at themeeting.
5.2 The Commission felt that the measures currently in place constituted a coherent body of work but that more needed to be done to achieve our goal. It was important to ensure that there was top-level leadership and accountability on health and safety in the public as well as the private sector. HSC needed to ensure that in the current debate on new company law the need for corporate responsibility and accountaibility for health and safety issues was not lost sight with the focus on financial management and governance. Organisations and their stakeholders were able to to make more informed judgements concerning the management of health and safety when information was more transparent and accessible. Research had revealed that 91 of the FTSE100 companies now report publicly on their management of health and safety – and that evidence showed that many large organisations were paying heed to the HSC guidance. Although legal obligations did make people take their responsibilities more seriously, further legislation should be seen as an option only once all other avenues, including voluntary approached, had been fully explored. An approach based on voluntarism might be the most appropriate way of bringing about cultural and behavioural change rather than separating out directors’ responsibilities for manging the risks to health and safety rather than as an integral part of the responsible management of businesses and other organisations. At this time the case for new law on directors’ responsibilities had not been made. Corporate social responsibility, reputation and other factors would contribute to further improvements.
5.3 The Chair thanked the presenters. The goal of greater corporate responsibility and accountability was an important one and was rising up the board agenda. There was a need to ensure that health and safety formed an important a part of the wider political
agenda. External stakeholders, including importantly the Institute of Directors, had helped to get the messages across. Smaller firms had genuine concerns on this front as they were more likely to be personally responsible and lacked the infrastructuire of their larger counterparts On balance, HSC was agreed on the way to take the work forward. HSC/E would:
- continue with their existing voluntary approach to promote and encourage greater corporate responsibility and accountability including through engagement and publicity and guidance. In summing up, the Commission noted the progress that had been made on a range of issues, especially on the public reporting of health and safety management by large orgnisations and the plans for new work: integration of thiswork into a single coherent major block (see paragraph 5 and Appendix A);
- directors’ responsibilities (see paragraphs 7 -11 of this paper and Appendix B);
- public reporting of health and safety (see paragraphs 12 - 17 and Appendix C);
- development of the health and safety management and performance index and case studies to show the business benefit of effectively managed health and safety (see paragraphs 18 - 20 and Appendices D and E).
5.4 The Commission did not consider it appropriate at this time to recommend to Ministers a new legal duty on directors. The Commission would continue to look for opportunities to influence the development of Company Law and the Operating and Financial Report Review, but recognised that the coverage of health and safety would, necessarily, be limited. The actions and recommendations in paragraphs 5, 11 and 17 were agreed. "


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Page last updated on October 27, 2007