A Labour MP is to launch a private members Bill with the support of trade unions that would impose stringent safety duties on company directors, making them more personally accountable for workplace accidents or deaths.
Stephen Hepburn, MP for Jarrow, and the Transport and General Workers Union (T&G) and the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians are pushing the government to support the Bill which would force company directors to take “reasonable steps” to ensure their businesses complied with health and safety legislation.
It would also make it easier for the courts to hold them personally responsible for accidents and deaths caused as a result of inadequate health and safety measures and to jail them.
The unions released statistics which show that more than 620 people were killed and 60,177 injured in the workplace during the past two years.
In the same period 23 directors were convicted of health and safety offences under current laws, although none were jailed.
Tony Woodley, general secretary of the T&G, said the issues of corporate manslaughter and directors’ responsibility had been on the backburner for a long time.
“In 1996 Labour promised workers it would act to close the loophole which allows negligent bosses to evade responsibility for safety. Workers have waited eight years for action. They should not have any longer,” he said.
However, the CBI warned that while rogue traders should be punished, many responsible employers were subject to unforeseen circumstances and should be protected from prosecution.
The TUC also claims that hundreds of workers are sacked every year because they refuse to work in unsafe conditions. It accuses many firms of flouting protection for staff contained in the Employment Rights Act because it is cheaper to pay the fines for unfair dismissal.
All workers have the right to refuse to carry out dangerous work, but TUC research has found that 1,500 staff were dismissed for raising safety concerns since 1999.