Moving away from the impact of the new Sentencing Guidelines, we look at positive steps that Directors and Senior Managers can take to avoid a breach in the first instance.

January 2016, unlike many other Januarys before it presents Directors and Senior Managers across the country with an opportunity to make a real difference within their respective organisations. Related to the upcoming implementation of the new Guidelines for Sentencing of Health and Safety and Corporate Manslaughter Offences, this year’s simple and effective New Year Resolution is read or revisit the joint IOD/HSE Guidance document, Leading Health and Safety at Work.

10 years since its initial publication, the Institute of Directors Guidance is no less relevant now than it was on publication. If anything, it's now even more relevant.

Not only are the new requirements under the Sentencing Guidelines encouraging Investigators and Prosecutors to look into organisations’ systems of health and safety management, seeking to establish the potential role of systemic failures in this regard, but they are increasingly looking upwards at how the Board level decisions to set the tone of this approach.

The importance of Board level involvement in such issues is made unequivocally clear by comments such as those in the case of R v Southern Water Services Ltd where the Court of Appeal emphasised that the most senior levels of management and at Board level should be demonstrating that they have considered and are addressing the cause of any offending behaviours. The Court made clear that in cases of the greatest seriousness, this would fall the Chief Executive and main boards of companies to account for these areas.

As we move into a new landscape of health and safety enforcement, one that it is likely to welcome unprecedented levels of fines for such offences, we ask ourselves - what simple New Year’s resolutions can directors, governors, trustees, officers and any other equivalent take to make a practical difference to their respective organisations?

Returning to the IOD Guidance, the essential principles when addressing health and safety are clearly stated:

  • Strong and active leadership from the top
  • Worker involvement
  • Assessment and review

What do these mean in practice?

When translating these into your New Year’s resolutions there is a clear four-point agenda suggested by the IOD for embedding those essential health and safety principles, supplemented by checklists and supporting materials:

  1. Plan

As with all others aspects of a business’ management, the Board must set the direction for effective health and safety management.

Are you satisfied at present that Board members should take the lead in ensuring the communication of health and safety duties and benefits throughout the organisation? If not the case already, businesses should strive to ensure that health and safety policy emanates from the Board room, running throughout the company’s practices. Whilst there is no quick solution to the above, the following steps will go a considerable way to assisting with this goal: 

  • Ensuring that health and safety matters appear as regular board agenda items
  • Appointing one Board member as a Safety Champion
  • Considering, where resources permit, the appointment of a Health and Safety Director to the Board
  • Setting key targets for the business
  • Tasking Non-Executive Directors with scrutinising performance 
  1. Deliver

Delivery depends upon the effectiveness of management systems within your company. There is no quick fix and it is undoubtedly already taking up much of your day to day time.

On a practical basis one of the greatest aides is ensuring that there is an effective commitment of resource to health and safety management; both internally and externally where necessary. Boards must satisfy themselves that adequate risk assessments have been completed for the company’s undertaking and that safe practices and processes are in place.

Additional key steps at Board level are: 

  • Equipping Board Members with training and understanding of principles of risk management on a practical basis
  • Actively reinforcing policies through Board members’ adherence whilst on the shop floor
  • Considering individual commitment to areas when deciding upon appointments 
  1. Monitor

Again, as with all areas of company policy, the success of health and safety management is dependent upon those systems for monitoring and reporting. If not already in place, companies regardless of their size should be considering how to facilitate relevant reporting at Board level and the degree of scrutiny to which they are subjected.

Beyond those routine reports regarding health and safety performance, top tips include: 

  • Collecting workplace health and safety data to benchmark performance against others in your sector. This can be a useful tool for informing company direction/strategy and, where bucking the industry trend, a valuable tool for demonstrating an effective management of these issues.
  • Involving the wider workforce in monitoring exercises, encouraging both positive and negative reporting so as to create a culture of compliance.
  1. Review

A periodic review of your company’s progress provides an opportunity to reflect upon how effective your system is at managing risk and protecting its employees.

As with the above section on monitoring, more important than identifying areas for improvement in the first place are those steps taken within an organisation to positively address them. Demonstrating a continual process of self-improvement can be extremely valuable should any questions be raised about the organisational, or even Board level commitment to the management of health and safety.

Be warned however! Nothing can serve as a greater aggravating factor in the investigation of a workplace incident than finding that the accident could readily have been prevented had a previous audit, review, near miss report etc. been picked up upon and rectified.

No matter how committed your organisation is to the principles of health and safety management, experience suggests that improvements can always be made. More importantly however, significant improvements can be realised from relatively few changes at the top.

On consideration of all of the recommendations above is the paramount role of senior individuals and the positive impact that they can have across all aspects of a company’s operations.

As Regulators and Courts will increasingly be looking upwards within organisations following an accident, one of the most effective means of preparing for this and the likely increase in fines to follow is to reappraise your approach to leading health and safety at work, making use of the ever useful IOD guidance.