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Employers give low priority to Health and Safety

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UK Businesses are woefully ill prepared for the new Corporate Killing laws due to come into force during this parliament, according to new research by training providers RRC.

Despite the Government’s Revitalising Health and Safety initiative which aims to reduce the incidence of work related illness and accident by up to 30% by 2010, RRC Business Training’s study of 100 health and safety managers in companies with an average of 2655 staff, highlights the alarmingly low priority placed on health and safety across the UK’s small to medium sized companies (SME’s).

According to the study, over a half of board directors see current health and safety legislation as just red tape and a third think it already imposes unnecessary constraints on their business. Only 63% regard health and safety as ‘vital’ while a fifth see it as a necessary evil.

A recent MORI poll of captains of industry conducted on behalf of the British Safety Council revealed that most are demonstrating an increased commitment to health and safety, but it seems that this is not yet reflected in smaller organisations.

One of the suggestions put forward by the Home Secretary is that companies should have a named director responsible for health and safety, a belief backed by the British Safety Council, but in a third of the companies which took part in RRC’s survey, no one at board level has ultimate responsibility for health and safety in their organisation.

The status of health and safety managers is also indicative of the lowly priority given to this area. Only 53% of those questioned are senior management or above – in the telecoms and IT sector this figure drops to 33%.

What is more, a quarter of those responsible for managing health and safety in UK SME’s have no recognised qualifications to equip them for their job and many are alarmingly unaware of even current basic legal requirements.

A quarter of health and safety managers are not aware of the present legal need for trained first aiders. Despite, the fact that musculo-skeletal disorders are the most common type of occupational ill health in Britain, nearly a fifth do not realise that they are breaking the law by not carrying out assessments of computer workstations regularly and when new recruits arrive. Thirteen percent do not even know that, currently, company bosses could have any responsibility for the health and safety of those not in their employment.

Considering this, it is no surprise that many are unaware of the implications of the new Corporate Killing legislation. A quarter did not even realise that companies could be held accountable in criminal law when health and safety falls below reasonable standards and less than half (40%) were aware of one of the main points of the new legislation – that a company can be subject to unlimited fines if convicted of corporate killing. A significant percentage were unaware that individuals could face life imprisonments for reckless killing.

Time was cited as the biggest barrier to health and safety training. Nearly half of those questioned say health and safety training is compromised because of lack of available time.

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