According to recent figures, directors and business owners are now increasingly under fire for Health and Safety failings, some of which have resulted in financial penalties or even imprisonment. John Southall, Director of safety consultancy, Southalls discusses how directors can avoid prosecutions and hefty fines through effective safety management implemented from the very top down.
Since the new sentencing guidelines were introduced in February 2016, we have seen an unprecedented number of sanctions and fines for breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc Act (1974) under section 37.
This offence is committed when a breach of health and safety law by an organisation has been made with the consent, connivance or neglect of any director, manager or secretary of the organisation. The result is that we are seeing many more individuals being investigated and prosecuted far more frequently for Health and Safety offences.
According to IOSH data published in January 2017, ‘in 2015-2016, 46 company directors and senior manager were prosecuted under health and safety law, compared to just 15 the year before’. While the number of employees prosecuted however has fallen, with just one individual employee prosecuted by the HSE in 2015/16, compared to 10 in the previous year.
A recent case at a Harlow warehouse
It was reported in February this year that three company directors have been sent to jail following the death of a man who fell while working at a warehouse in Essex.
Nikolai Valkov, 63, died in hospital after falling through the roof of a warehouse in Harlow on 13 April 2015. At Chelmsford Crown Court, Koseoglu Metalworks Ltd admitted an offence of corporate manslaughter and its sole director, Kadir Kose, admitted an offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA).
Ozdil Investments Ltd denied corporate manslaughter and a HSWA offence but was convicted following a trial at Chelmsford Crown Court. Two of its directors, Firat Ozdil and Ozgur Ozdil, were convicted of a HSWA offence.
At the court, Firat Ozdil was jailed for one year, Ozgur Ozdil for 10 months and Kose for eight months.
A serious boardroom concern
John Southall, Director, Southalls explains: “The IOSH data confirms what we’ve seen in practice, the HSE has shown an increased appetite to prosecute senior directors and business owners, while employees who are heavily involved are rarely considered accountable in the eyes of the law . Directors and business owners are therefore responsible for health and safety failings of their business and staff – a serious boardroom concern.”
The key message for owners of all businesses is that no matter what size of business you have, health and safety should be a priority at board level. Directors and management boards should ensure that those tasked with health and safety management are suitably qualified and that a positive safety culture is adopted by all employees, especially those with the most influence.
Start at the top
John Southall, continues: “We’re surprised at just how few business owners know about the new sentencing guidelines and the fact that they may be held culpable should an accident happen. Directors should take the time to understand what a genuinely effective safety culture actually involves.”
Here are some tips on best practice:
· Set out your corporate vision for health and safety management and lead by example.
· You can get out of touch when you’re not on the ground or shop floor- go out and look around, see what your staff are doing, talk to them and take a look at how safe or unsafe their practices really are.
· Always encourage an ‘open door’ policy and avoid a corporate ‘blame culture’.
· Staff should be encouraged to highlight when there’s an issue (this can be done anonymously), Southalls Safety Cloud system provide a module for staff to feedback in this way.
· Provide the necessary ‘tools’ including finance for managers to complete their roles e.g. dedicated training. Southalls runs a ‘Safety for Directors’ course for example, which outlines director responsibilities regarding safety, and how they can ensure all staff buy in to an effective safety culture.
The ownership of health and safety by the board therefore, is at the heart of this issue. There are many challenges facing directors, but taking time to promote robust health and safety management can make a positive impact on the profitability and the success of the business.
John Southall continues: “With the pressures often facing business owners, some can be dismissive of health and safety and only focus on it if an accident occurs. If cultivated effectively, however, a conscientious attitude to safety can increase profits, reduce insurance premiums, maintain a healthy and happy workforce, and ultimately enhance corporate reputation. If an accident does occur, then the business owner would be much less likely to be prosecuted if they had been proactive about their risk management.”
It’s important to remember that whilst health and safety responsibilities ultimately lie with the owners of a business, engaging a workforce to take safety seriously will not happen without leaders at the top understanding the importance of safety first.