Organizational Health And Safety Responsibilities Of Directors

The Organizational Health And Safety Responsibilities Of Directors

Businesses should ensure their directors are aware of the health and safety responsibilities that apply to them. This webpage provides information and guidance on the health and safety responsibilities of company directors. It looks at the areas they may need to address, whether they are managing a large or small business, or are the director of a small charitable organization.

The HSE and the Institute of Directors have published INDG417, which replaces INDG243. The guide is based on a plan, i.e., to deliver, monitor, and review the management concept, and the following information is closely based on this guide. 

Effective health and safety performance come from the top; board members have collective and individual responsibility for health and safety. Directors and boards need to examine their behaviors, both individually and collectively, against the guidance given. When they fall short of the standards, it sets them to change what they do to become more effective leaders in health and safety. 

Why directors and board members need to act:

  • Protecting the health and safety of employees or public members who may be affected by their activities is an essential part of risk management and must be led by the board. 
  • Failure to include health and safety as a key business risk in board decisions can have catastrophic results. Over the years, many high-profile safety cases have been rooted in leadership failures. 
  • Health and safety law places duties on organizations and employers. Directors can be personally liable when these duties are breached: members of the board have collective and individual responsibility for health and safety. 

Plan the direction of health and safety

The board should set the direction for effective health and safety management. Board members need to establish a health and safety policy that is much more than a document – it should be an integral part of the organization’s culture, values, and performance standards. 

All board members should ensure the communication of health and safety duties and benefits throughout the organization. Executive directors must develop policies to avoid health and safety problems and respond quickly where difficulties arise, or new risks are introduced; non-executives must ensure that health and safety are properly addressed. 

Core actions 

To agree on a policy, boards will need to ensure they are aware of the significant risks faced by their organization. The policy should set out the board’s role and that of individual board members in leading the health and safety of its organization. It should require the board to:

  • ‘Own’ and understand the key issues involved; 
  • Decide how best to communicate, promote and champion health and safety. 

The health and safety policy is a ‘living’ document. It should evolve, for example, in the light of major organizational changes such as restructuring or a significant acquisition. 

Good practice

  • Health and safety should appear regularly on the agenda for board meetings. 
  • The Chief Executive can give the clearest leadership visibility, but some boards find it useful to name one of their members as the health and safety ‘champion.’ 
  • The presence on the Board of a Health and Safety Director can be a strong signal that the issue is being taken seriously and that its strategic importance is understood. 
  • Setting targets helps define what the board is seeking to achieve. 
  • A non-executive director can act as a scrutinizer – ensuring that the processes to support boards facing significant health and safety risks are robust.

Deliver health and safety

Delivery depends on an effective management system to ensure the health and safety of employees, customers, and public members so far as is reasonably practicable.

Organizations should aim to protect people by introducing management systems and practices that ensure risks are dealt with sensibly, responsibly, and proportionately. 

Core actions

To take responsibility and ‘ownership’ of health and safety, members of the board must ensure that: 

  • health and safety arrangements are adequately resourced; 
  • they obtain competent health and safety advice; 
  • risk assessments are carried out; 
  • Employees or their representatives are involved in decisions that affect their health and safety. 

The board should consider the health and safety implications of introducing new processes, new working practices, or new personnel, dedicating adequate resources to the task, and seeking advice where necessary.

Boardroom decisions must be made in the context of the organization’s health and safety policy; it is important to ‘design-in’ health and safety when implementing change. 

Good practice 

  • Leadership is more effective if visible – board members can reinforce health and safety policy by being seen on the ‘shop floor,’ following all safety measures themselves, and immediately addressing any breaches. 
  • Consider health and safety when deciding senior management appointments. 
  • Having procurement standards for goods, equipment and services can help prevent the introduction of expensive health and safety hazards. 
  • The health and safety arrangements of partners, key suppliers, and contractors should be assessed: their performance could adversely affect the director’s performance. 
  • Setting up separate risk management or health and safety committee as a subset of the board, chaired by a senior executive, can ensure the key issues are addressed and guard against time and effort wasted on trivial risks and unnecessary bureaucracy.
  • Providing health and safety training to some or all of the board can promote understanding and knowledge of the key issues in the organization.
  • Supporting worker involvement in health and safety, above the legal duty to consult worker representatives, can improve participation and help prove senior management commitment.

Monitor health and safety

Monitoring and reporting are vital parts of a health and safety system. Management systems must allow the board to receive specific (e.g., incident-led) and routine reports on health and safety policy performance.

Much day-to-day health and safety information needs are reported only at the time of a formal review. But only a strong system of monitoring can ensure that the formal review can proceed as planned – and that relevant event in the interim are brought to the board’s attention. 

Core actions

The board should ensure that: 

  • appropriate weight is given to reporting both preventive information (such as the progress of training and maintenance programs) and incident data (such as accident and sickness absence rates);
  • periodic audits of the effectiveness of management structures and risk controls for health and safety are carried out; 
  • the impact of changes such as the introduction of new procedures, work processes or products, or any major health and safety failure, is reported as soon as possible to the board; 
  • There are procedures to implement new and changed legal requirements and consider other external developments and events. 

Good practice

  • Effective monitoring of sickness absence and workplace health can alert the board to underlying problems that could seriously damage performance or result in accidents and long-term illness.
  • The collection of workplace health and safety data can allow the board to benchmark the organization’s performance against others in its sector. 
  • Appraisals of senior managers can include an assessment of their contribution to health and safety performance.
  • Boards can receive regular reports on contractors’ health and safety performance and actions.
  • Some organizations have found they win greater support for health and safety by involving workers in monitoring. 

Review health and safety 

A formal boardroom review of health and safety performance is essential. It allows the board to establish whether the essential health and safety principles – strong and active leadership, worker involvement, and assessment and review – have been embedded in the organization. It tells senior managers whether their system effectively manages risk and protects people. 

Core actions 

The board should review health and safety performance at least once a year. The review process should: 

  • Examine whether the health and safety policy reflects the organization’s current priorities, plans, and targets; 
  • Determine whether risk management and other health and safety systems have been effectively reported to the board; 
  • Report health and safety shortcomings and the effect of all relevant board and management decisions; 
  • Decide actions to address any weaknesses and a system to monitor their implementation; 
  • Consider immediate reviews in the light of major shortcomings or events. 

Good practice

  • Performance on health, safety, and well-being is increasingly recorded in organizations’ annual reports to investors and stakeholders. 
  • Board members can make extra ‘shop floor’ visits to gather information for the formal review. 
  • Good health and safety performance can be celebrated at the central and local levels. 

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