The Government shake-up of the Health and Safety system could lead to senior HR practitioners being prosecuted as well as placing onerous new responsibilities on them.
Employers’ groups are to scrutinise government plans published by the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions last week to make individual directors directly accountable for health and safety performance.
Organisations will be forced to assign health and safety responsibility to a senior named individual as part of the drive to cut workplace deaths and serious injuries.
“Health and Safety is a priority issue for those at the top of all organisations and they must be prepared to face the consequences of ignoring the law; in future that could well mean prison,” said Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott at the launch of Revitalising Health and Safety last week.
There will be prison sentences for nearly all health and safety breaches, and an increase in the maximum fine from £5,000 to £20,000.
The announcement comes just weeks after the Home Office unveiled proposals for a new corporate killing law for companies that fall far below the required safety standards (Personnel Today, 30 May).
CBI deputy director-general John Cridland said the body would have to “look very closely” at the designated director proposals.
“We need to know what is intended in terms of specific duties, how those duties would be circumscribed and what the personal liabilities would be.”
He conceded it was likely that responsibility would fall to HR, “particularly in companies which feel the risks are more on the health than the safety side”.
Ruth Lea, head of policy at the Institute of Directors, called for clarification on whether designated directors could be personally liable.
“If it were so, that would be really bad news, especially in larger organisations where you cannot possibly know everything that is going on. I cannot see anyone wanting the job.”