The campaign for tougher laws to prevent workplace death and injury and to hold company directors to account for negligent health and safety practices has begun with the first reading in Parliament of the Health and Safety (Director Duties) Bill.
The private member’s Bill is being championed by Stephen Hepburn, Labour MP for Jarrow, and is supported by the Transport & General Workers’ Union, the construction union, Ucatt, and the TUC, as well as a growing number of groups representing families who have had relatives killed or injured in workplace accidents.
The Bill would place a general duty on all company directors and large companies would have to appoint a director at board level to be responsible for health and safety.
Under the Bill, companies would face not just fines, but the prospect of custodial sentences for directors where serious health and safety breaches or negligence has resulted in death.
In the past year, 235 workers were killed at work (a 4 per cent rise), while more than 30,000 suffered serious injuries (up 9 per cent).
According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), seven out of 10 workplace fatalities may be the result of management failures yet, while UK law imposes health and safety obligations on employees and members of the public, it places no similar obligations on company directors. A voluntary code introduced by the HSE to improve boardroom understanding of safety at work has prompted only 37 per cent of company boards to discuss workplace accidents and ill health.
Introducing the Bill to the Commons, Hepburn said: “There currently exists a state of ‘legalised ignorance’ for directors when it comes to health and safety. This is unacceptable. Directors are people of tremendous power and with that power ought to come a responsibility to safeguard the health of their workforce and the public.
“My Bill is about promoting a responsibility culture in the boardroom – it is first and foremost about preventing accidents which devastate the lives of ordinary people.”
The Bill has support from MPs of all major political parties, as well the Centre for Corporate Accountability.