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Directors Duties - Select Committee, 2004
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Select Committee, 2004 -
and Directors Duties

In 2004, the Select committee on Work and Pensions published its report on the Health and Safety Executive and Commssion (to read more about the evidence that was given to this, click here).

In its report, the Select Committee stated:

56. The HSE recognises that, in organisations that are good at managing health and safety, it is a board room issue and a board member takes direct responsibility for co-ordination of that effort. Action Point 11 of Revitalising Health and Safety was that HSC would advise Ministers on how the law needed to be changed to make these responsibilities statutory, so that directors are clear about what is expected of them in their management of health and safety. It was the intention to legislate on these matters when Parliamentary time allows, as the weight of evidence suggests that the imposition of legally binding duties on directors would increase the likelihood of directors taking ownership of health and safety problems , positively impact on the current levels of preventable work-place death and injury and create more of a level playing field between those directors who take their health and safety responsibilities seriously and those who do not.
57. The CBI supported the idea that there should be a director for health and safety who is ‘a champion, a reporting person, a motivator and a facilitator for good health and safety performance’ but was concerned that it would move quickly to that same person being ‘pinpointed to take a claim.’ Because of this, it was important to be ‘careful about the wording.’

The Government appears to have changed its mind since Revitalising, however, and has no current plans to legislate. The Minister, told us that HSE had published guidance on the issue in July 2001 . The evidence since then suggested that ‘increasingly, companies were directing health and safety at board level and that better guidance to companies is needed rather than legislation or further regulation.’ A survey published in 2003, showed that the number of companies in which health and safety was being directed at board level had increased from 58 to 66 per cent. The Minister concluded that this progress diminished the need to regulate. Alternatively, it is worth noting that the perceived threat of legislation in this area might have led some employers to put such arrangements in place in order to pre-empt the need for legislation

59. The Centre for Corporate Accountability argued that it is not clear that directors are giving leadership and direction on the issue. It says that HSC has acknowledged that in some cases board level involvement is ‘fairly superficial.’ Furthermore, it argues that the survey referred to by the Minister does not paint a straightforward picture of progress. While an increasing number of organisations were directing health and safety at board level, the study also showed that board level involvement on some issues actually decreased.
60. The Committee recommends that the Government reconsiders its decision not to legislate on directors duties and brings forward proposals for prelegislative scrutiny in the next session of Parliament.

The Government, responded in its report by stating:

The Government believes that there is already an appropriate balance of legislative and voluntary responsibilities on directors for occupational health and safety, and has no immediate plans to legislate as recommended. It, along with HSC, will continue to encourage and persuade directors in organisations across all sectors to take their responsibilities seriously and to provide leadership on occupational health and safety.

While the evidence is clear that growing numbers of board directors, in the private, public and voluntary sectors, are taking responsibility and providing leadership, there is still some way to go to achieve the goal of all boards exercising corporate responsibility. There is an estimated one in six organisations in which boards do not provide direction or take responsibility, and have no plans to do so.

A key theme in HSC’s workplace strategy is helping people to understand and benefit from sensible health and safety policies and practices. HSC has been asked to build on and invigorate the current voluntary measures in place.

This includes publicising examples of best practice, the benefits of board- level corporate responsibility and the persuasive evidence of the benefits, economic and social, that director leadership brings.

The Government has asked HSC to undertake further evaluation to assess the effectiveness and progress of the current measures in place, legislative and voluntary, and to report its findings and recommendations by December 2005.

If it was not for the Select Committee, the issue of changing the law to impose safety duties on Directors would in effect have died.

To read more about the select committee and to access select committee report and government response, click here


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