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30 October 2007

"Bringing Justice to the Boardroom" - the case against voluntary guidance and in favour of a change in the law to impose safety duties on directors

A new report by the Centre for Corporate Accountability sets out how many of the arguments used by the HSE to support the introduction of voluntary guidance for directors on health and safety responsibilities, without first changing the law to impose safety obligations upon them, are misleading.

The new report was published on the same day that the Health and Safety Commission and the Institute of Directors published new voluntary guidance for directors.

The report was written for the building workers's union, UCATT.

In particular the report shows that:

Whilst the HSE argues that voluntary guidance published in 2001 has resulted in about 70% of organizations having a health and safety director at board level, this figure comes from a survey that relates to only very large organisations (employing an average of 4300 workers) and that another HSE commissioned survey looking at organizations of all sizes, shows that this figure is in fact only 44%. Voluntary guidance therefore does not work

The HSE has argued that the average reductions in levels of injury as a result of director action is 5-10%, however in fact HSE's own research shows that the average is 25%. The level of health and safety benefits from director action are therefore potentially very high

HSE's own commissioned research shows that law and its enforcement is the principle motivator of director action. An HSE commissioned paper, which reviewed all the existing evidence on what motivates directors, published in 2005, states that: "existing evidence suggests that legal regulations and their enforcement constitute a key, and perhaps the most important, driver of director actions in respect of health and safety at work ....." and more recently published evidence by the HSE states:  “61% of duty holders agree or strongly agree that individuals believing they could possibly be imprisoned is essential or important for enforcement to have a deterrent effect – just ahead of fear of personal reputation damage at 60% whilst 52% cite individual legal consequence as essential or important”

David Bergman, Director of the Centre for Corporate Accountability said:

“The HSE has over the years been against changing the law on directors duties and actively supported voluntary guidance. This report shows that many of HSE's arguments in support of voluntary guidance and against legal change have been misleading, and that in fact its own commissioned research supports the argument for legal change. The report also shows that potential health and safety benefits in changing the law are so significant that a failure to to do so borders on recklessness."

To download the report and access all key documents referenced in the report, click here.

To see UCATT press-release, click here

The Centre for Corporate Accountability is a human rights charity advising those bereaved from work-related deaths, and working on issues of safety, law enforcement and corporate accountability.

For Press Enquiries and to speak to families
Centre for Corporate Accountability

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Page last updated on October 31, 2007