No 'need' for new health and safety legal duties

An employers’ group has claimed that there is no need for the government to create new laws which would add to the health and safety duties of company directors as the present system is working well.

Manufacturers’ organisation, the EEF said that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has given employers until 2010 to show that the current rules are effective or to face a change in the law.

However, a health and safety survey carried out by the EEF revealed that directors in over 80 per cent of companies are actively involved in managing health and safety.

What’s more, in the last three years there has been a 40 per cent increase in the number of company boards that monitor health and safety management as part of their Key Performance Indicators.

The figures suggest that there is no need for a change in the law, the EEF argued.

Steve Pointer, head of health and safety policy at the EEF, said that the survey endorsed the EEF’s view that the best way to promote best practice health and safety is to encourage good leadership rather than to introduce new statutory duties that would lead to a ‘box ticking’ mentality.

He said: “This survey shows that active leadership by directors is now very definitely the norm, not the exception. Managers and directors in our member companies are taking their responsibilities seriously and the results clearly demonstrate that further regulation is not required.”

Mr Pointer added: “The law already allows directors or managers to be held to account if their personal actions put someone at risk. Adding specific requirements such as appointment of single director to be charged with managing health and safety could only be counter-productive. It would send a message that fellow directors can forget all about health and safety, which would be disastrous. Health and safety management is effective when everyone works together.”

The survey also cast health and safety inspectors in a positive light. By and large firms reported that the majority of inspectors did not conform to the stereotype of unreasonable and overzealous enforcers of the law.

There was widespread support for the advice inspectors gave to companies and for the overall relationship with the enforcing authority. Only 3 per cent of respondents experienced a problem with inspectors and the authorities.

That said, around half of businesses believed that health and safety requirements involve excessive bureaucracy; a similar proportion were concerned about the up-front costs involved.

Mr Pointer continued: “The HSE has recently done some good work to reduce paperwork requirements and improve communication with small businesses. However, we still see overly-long and complex guidance being produced which means more needs to be done. In particular it is important that local authority regulators, insurers and others who influence the health and safety system join and fully support the HSE to spread this kind of approach across the full range of its work.”