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Directors' responsibilities

Directors’ responsibilities for Health & Safety

HSE/IoD guidance in this area* sets out the roles and responsibilities of the board (where there is one, otherwise the named company directors) for ensuring effective health and safety management. The guidance says that:

  • the board/directors must accept formally and publicly its collective role in providing health and safety leadership within the organisation
  • each member of the board needs to accept their individual role in providing health and safety leadership
  • the board needs to ensure that all board decisions reflect its health and safety intentions, as laid down in the health and safety policy statement
  • the board needs to ensure that it is kept informed of, and alert to, relevant health and safety risk management issues.

HSE says that it is important that all directors, in carrying out their responsibilities, set out:

  • their expectations of senior managers with health and safety responsibilities
  • the arrangements for keeping the board advised of all relevant matters concerning performance.

Specifically, the HSE says that the board needs to:

  • review health and safety performance regularly (at least annually);
  • ensure that the health and safety policy statement reflects the board’s priorities. The statement should be considered at the same time as reviews of health and safety performance, or when circumstances (such as a new management structure) change;
  • ensure that a management system provides for effective risk assessment, and the monitoring and reporting of health and safety performance (periodic audits can provide information on this);
  • be kept informed about any significant health and safety failures, and of the outcome of the investigations into their causes;
  • and ensure that the health and safety implications of all decisions are taken into account.

Legal Requirements

Employers must ensure that they discharge their general duties under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, while specific requirements within the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 include:

  • assessing any work-related risks faced by employees, and by people not in their employment (notably contractors and the public)
  • having effective arrangements in place for planning, organising, controlling, monitoring and reviewing preventive and protective measures
  • appointing one or more competent persons to help undertake the measures needed to comply with health and safety law
  • providing employees with comprehensible and relevant information on the risks they face and the measures that control those risks.

Where a ‘body corporate’ commits a health and safety offence, and the offence was committed with the “consent or connivance of, or was attributable to any neglect on the part of, any director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body corporate” then that person (as well as the body corporate) can be prosecuted (s37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974).

The health and safety responsibilities of all board members should be clearly laid down in the company health and safety policy and arrangements.

There are no legal minimum health and safety training qualifications for company directors, unless a director is taking on operational health and safety roles. The need for training must be determined on a case by case basis.

Health and Safety Director

HSE guidance recommends that boards appoint one of their number as the ‘health and safety director’. Though this is not a legal requirement, it is good practice (in the event of any prosecutions or civil actions, following good practice is an important factor).

A health and safety director will be the focal point for top management, ensuring that the board/directors, collectively, are discharging their health and safety responsibilities, and that significant health and safety issues are communicated throughout the company.

HSE says that if there is a specific health and safety director this should not detract either from the responsibilities of other directors for specific areas of health and safety management, or from the health and safety responsibilities of the board as a whole.

*HSE’s guidance leaflet on 'Leading Health and Safety at work' (INDG417 (rev1), published 06/13).