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Call for legal duty on company directors' responsibility

Author : Paul Gay

02 February 2010

The Health and Safety Executive's board will have to decide whether or not to ask the Government to create a legal duty on company directors to protect the health and safety of their employees, following the first reading of a Private Members’ Bill introduced by Backbench Labour MP Frank Doran. The Bill suggests amendments to the Health and Safety at Work Act by placing a positive duty on directors to ensure health and safety in their organisations.

Houses of Parliament
Houses of Parliament

At present, directors' health and safety duties in law are expressed as sanctions for criminal failure to prevent accidents or ill health. The Health and Safety (Company Director Liability) Bill, which was introduced under the Ten Minute Rule on 19 January, was agreed by the House and received its first reading.
In support of his Bill, Doran said the current voluntary approach to improving director accountability, such as the joint guidance from the Institute of Directors (IoD) and the HSE, is not working. It is unclear how much of the IoD/HSE voluntary guidance on directors' safety responsibilities is being adopted. The HSE has revised its own guidance for inspectors, reinforcing existing advice on their ability to enforce against directors and to remind courts of their power to disqualify convicted directors.
“We desperately need another approach,” Doran added, “one that will bring the responsibilities of company directors into line with all other employers under our health and safety legislation, and one that will be of benefit not just to the work force but, as the HSE's own research shows, to employers as well.
“My Bill will place a positive duty on all company directors to take all reasonable steps to ensure health and safety in all aspects of the company's activities-effectively to put them in the same position as all other employers and to remove a glaring anomaly in our health and safety laws.”
It is a widely accepted fact that Bills introduced under the Ten Minute Rule seldom get onto the Statute Book. But MPs often use the process more as a way of making a point on the need to change legislation or to test parliamentary opinion on a subject.
The Health and Safety (Company Director Liability) Bill is scheduled for a second reading debate on 23 April 2010. In the meantime, the lobbyists are busy with a petition to take before the HSE Board which will decide whether or not to recommend to ministers that they introduce statutory health and safety duties for directors. The petition states: We call on the HSE board to recommend the government introduces a statutory duty on directors to take all reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of their organisations' workers.
Your signature could make a difference. Follow the link below and add your weight to the debate.

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