Richard Jones, Director of Technical Affairs at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health’s (IOSH), questions whether organisations are doing enough to prevent workplace deaths.
Over 200 workers were killed at work last year and an estimated 1,000 lost their lives in work-related road traffic accidents. The new Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act is expected to become law later this year and aims to make it easier to prosecute organisations where their gross negligence has led to death. IOSH believes this long-awaited legal reform will help to raise health and safety standards and save lives, but should have wider application.
Main elements of the new Act:
- A focus on gross failures by organisations and the removal of the need to identify a “controlling mind”, which previously prevented large organisations being successfully prosecuted.
- The failures concerned will involve the way in which senior managers organise or manage the organisation’s activities, falling far below what could reasonably be expected in the circumstances.
- Corporate bodies such as companies, incorporated bodies in the public sector e.g. local authorities and NHS Trusts; as well as government departments and other Crown bodies, will be covered.
- Penalties will include fines and remedial orders.
When deciding culpability under the new offence, juries will consider breaches of health and safety legislation and failure to follow guidance and may also consider attitudes or accepted practices that allowed this. In order to protect workers, the public and the organisation, employers need to ensure that they have effective risk control systems in place and a positive health and safety culture.
Organisations should be taking this opportunity to review their health and safety policies, systems and practices. They should ensure they are legally compliant as a minimum, are following enforcing authority guidance, and are managing their significant risks. Obvious areas for review are those where death could occur, e.g. working at height, workplace transport and occupational road risk.
HR and health and safety professionals have essential parts to play in helping organisations develop positive cultures, with strong leadership from senior management, so short-cuts and poor safety behaviour aren’t tolerated.
Additionally, they can help employers ensure everyone is adequately trained, informed, supervised and resourced, so they work safely and report any concerns or incidents for investigation.
Employers need to actively engage workers in helping keep workplaces safe and should regularly consult them on health and safety arrangements. Winning ‘hearts and minds’ is imperative, however, deliberate or reckless acts that endanger people need to be dealt with through the disciplinary process.
Directors and senior managers need to fully understand their health and safety responsibilities. They should consider health and safety in all business decisions, including using procurement standards to ensure it isn’t compromised when purchasing goods, equipment or services and they should have access to competent health and safety assistance.
Good management is key to saving lives and to business survival. Organisations convicted of the new offence can expect hefty fines and possible remedial orders and, as a result of adverse publicity and reputational damage, may lose business, as well as public, employee, investor and insurer confidence. The courts have been taking an increasingly tough line when health and safety offences cause death. In 2005 Transco was fined a UK record of £15m, following the tragic deaths of a family of four in a gas explosion. Organisations convicted of the new offence must expect similar sanction.
But the proposed Act doesn’t go far enough.
We believe there should be fewer exemptions regarding deaths of people who aren’t employed by an organisation but are killed a result of its gross failings and also deaths abroad caused by UK-managed operations.
In respect to penalties, we would like to see active measures required for lasting health and safety improvement. Courts should take a broad view on remedial orders and, with advice from the Health and Safety Executive, consider requiring convicted organisations to train senior managers; to use competent health and safety advice; to take steps to improve health and safety culture; and to explore the possible benefits of restorative justice.
A new offence that addresses these issues, together with the introduction of enforceable directors’ health and safety duties and improved guidance, we believe will help deter poor health and safety standards and ultimately, will help save lives.
IOSH is Europe’s leading body for health and safety professionals. We have over 30,000 members worldwide, including more than 10,000 Chartered Safety and Health Practitioners. The Institution was founded in 1945 and is an independent, not-for-profit organisation that sets professional standards, supports and develops members and provides authoritative advice and guidance on health and safety issues. IOSH is formally recognised by the ILO as an international non-governmental organisation.
For more information, please contact Roy Turner, Chelgate PR, on +44 (0)20 7939 7920 or : [email protected]
Paul Marston, IOSH media officer, on +44 (0)116 257 3141 [email protected]
Anne Smart, IOSH media and campaigns co-ordinator on +44 (0)116 257 3139, email [email protected]