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ICE to support members over 'punitive' safety laws

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THE ICE is to tackle increasing political pressure to make individual engineers responsible for safety failings by committing to a controversial policy to defend its members against prosecution.

ICE Council approved the new policy statement last week.

It pledges to defend members against the 'culture of promoting of safety through an overreliance on punitive legislation'.

The policy states that 'the inappropriate pursuit of individuals for personal failings will reduce innovation and the application of engineering judgement' in the industry.

At worst, it adds, engineers may be discouraged from 'taking positions of responsibility'.

The statement was proposed in a paper to Council by a working group set up 'to review the implications for members resulting from legal action in respect of professional conduct principally relating to safety'.

The working group was established in response to alarm by members over recent attempts to prosecute engineers after accidents such as the Hatfield and Potters Bar train crashes.

'In the last few years there has been an increase in the political pressure to make individuals and corporate bodies more demonstrably responsible for health and safety failings, ' said working group chairman Peter Hansford.

The policy urges an environment 'where proper balance between engineering judgement and adherence to procedures can be valued and exercised'.

The new policy also includes provision for the ICE to 'provide guidance to its members and officers where matters are under investigation or subjudice, ' to speed up discussion and learning in the profession.

ICE senior vice president Colin Clinton said the policy was long overdue.

'We do have a duty to our members, ' he said, adding that many engineers looked to the ICE to give them support if they were being prosecuted over a safety failing.

Supporting notes for the paper said the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) should consider separating its 'enforcement' role from its 'guidance' role as the current approach may deter firms from seeking advice lest they risk prosecution.

It added that the HSE should review its policy of increasing the number of prosecutions under the Health & Safety at Work Act and consider whether its policies were increasing costs because of an overcautious reaction to the policy.

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