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HSC policy statement

Careers

Directors and managers should be aware of how the latest policy statement from the Health & Safety Commission could affect them says Martin Barnard.

The Health & Safety Commission has published its Enforcement Policy Statement. Within its 19 pages are a range of actions and intent which inspectors are to implement. As well as consolidation of the existing strategy the document introduces several new, interesting and challenging concepts. Key issues to note are:

lEnforcement against individuals is sharply focused on directors and managers being held to account for failing to meet their responsibilities. Lower level employees are not specifically mentioned. This risks an imbalance of responsibility which will be seen by some as unfair and counterproductive.

lThe prospect of an organisation accepting a formal caution in lieu of legal proceedings in cases where there is a realistic prospect of conviction appears consistent with a policy of greater enforcement. But with limited resources to implement it, great care needs to be exercised in moving down this road.

lInspectors should apply the principle of proportionality to their enforcement, ie how far the duty holder has fallen short of what the law required and the extent of the risk arising.

lIndustries with most serious risks or poorest control will be targeted. The construction industry can expect to be prominent.

lConsistency of approach is something that all industries expect from inspectors but sometimes feel is not forthcoming. The document defines it as being 'a similar approach in similar circumstances to achieve similar ends'.

lInspectors are meant to be transparent in helping duty-holders understand what is expected from them. This means distinguishing between what is compulsory and what is desirable. This is a significant challenge for HSE inspectors, particularly in relation to the formal advice they give.

lPerhaps the most significant part of the document relates to death at work. The policy requires that consideration be given to whether the circumstances of the case might justify a charge of manslaughter. It is for the police to decide whether to pursue manslaughter rather than HSE. This document is likely to accelerate the frequency of manslaughter cases rather than slow it down.

There is much to be gained from HSE having an open, clear and consistent enforcement policy. For it to be an effective tool, HSE must live up to the expectations it has set itself. In doing so it will enhance its credibility. Industry also has its part to play in responding to the challenge.

But above all else, I see a continuing trend of looking behind the corporate veil to examine the roles of individuals. With that in mind, all directors and managers should make themselves aware of the intent of the policy. Read and beware!

Martin Barnard is Symonds Group health and safety director www. hse. gov. uk/enforce/ index. htm

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