This week’s letters

Letter of the week
Who would want ‘blame’ position?

If no single person is held accountable for health & safety, the defence
for people accused will almost certainly include a claim that "I thought
one of the other guys had done that". This makes prosecution difficult,
which is why some advocate making a single individual ultimately responsible.
But who would want that job?

Decision-making is rarely a one-person exercise. A director responsible for
health & safety will still need to compete for budgetary share to pay for
expenditure. Ultimate control of the company rests with many stakeholders and
narrowing down the responsible person(s) will be virtually impossible.

The best route to good health & safety management is through
comprehensive safe working systems, policies and procedures, in which every
individual is properly conversant, backed up by a systematic assessment of all
of the risks and a prioritised health and safety improvement plan.

I believe that there is more mileage in grant-aid support for the training
of competent people combined with more policing by HSE and local authorities.
Over time, assessment of H&S management systems to a nat-ional standard, by
an independent body could be made mandatory, the tax system modified to
encourage early accreditation.

Knee-jerk reactions, looking to blame individuals will not help in the long
run. Organisations which fail in their duties should eventually face much
heavier fines and boards of directors should be removed from office and
prevented from taking up directorships elsewhere.

Ian Stain
Industry & Employee Services
via e-mail

Companies must be held liable

Graeme Loveland (Letters, 17 July) seems to have missed the point about the
Government’s proposals regarding corporate killing which seek to address a
significant defect in the law. Currently, an organisation cannot be found
guilty of manslaughter unless an individual is identified as the
"embodiment of the company itself". The complexity of large
organisations means this is virtually impossible.

The proposals remind us of some of the disasters where there has been major
loss of life – the Herald of Free Enterprise (187 dead), Kings Cross (31),
Clapham (35), Southall (7). However, despite successful prosecutions under the
Health & Safety at Work Act, it was not possible to prosecute the companies
responsible for manslaughter, prompting serious criticism of the law.

Subsequent public inquiries into these accidents identified serious
management failures, the consequences of which should have been foreseeable
even without the benefit of hindsight.

Loveland considers the idea of corporate killing to be "politically
correct claptrap". We are talking about killing caused by an
organisation’s gross carelessness. The proposed offence of corporate killing is
not a "tabloid sensationalist label" as he suggests, but a
reasonable, measured attempt to make organisations vicariously liable for the
actions of their managers and employees who cause death – the same way they are
for other civil and criminal offences.

Eric Letherman
Health & Safety adviser, Manchester

Risks must be rammed home

The problem of lack of senior executives’ responsibility for the welfare of
their employees and members of the public, is not a new one. Those employed in
high-risk activities, such as the Fire Service, have always been managed by
senior executives who have had personal experience of the risks involved.

Risk-aware executives are less likely to end up in jail because they can
appreciate the dangers and manage their undertakings accordingly.
Unfortunately, in many large organisations chairmen and chief executives have
little experience of the actual work processes or risks involved.

These are precisely the people who need to concentrate on the safety
implications of corporate decisions, which is why the Government intends to
tighten up what are sloppy and open-ended arrangements for identifying

Bernard Angus
Corporate H&S Adviser, Crawley Borough Council

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