Sweeping new powers on health and safety will be published next year in a Safety Bill which will make a named company director legally responsible for the care of employees in the workplace.
The Bill will follow the Cullen Report into the Ladbroke Grove train crash, expected next year, pushing the legislation to early in the next Parliament, if Labour wins the General Election.
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott told the Labour party conference in Brighton last week that it would be a comprehensive Bill, based on the Revitalising Health & Safety document launched in the summer. It will designate a director responsible for health and safety in each organisation.
A maximum penalty of imprisonment will be extended to most health and safety offences.
It may also include fast-tracking of the processing of some offences and using the proceeds of fines to improve health and safety. The Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions is also cooperating with the Home Office on a strengthened corporate manslaughter law.
Prescott’s announcement follows complaints from Labour MPs that the level of fines is often lower than the cost of remedying unsafe practice.
The CBI gave a noticeably cooler reaction to last week’s announcement than to the Revitalising document, which deputy director-general John Cridland described as an “impetus to world-class health and safety performance”.
Last week a CBI spokeswoman said the matter of named directors for health and safety would not in itself be a major burden on business, but added, “Coupled with everything going on, there could be more action in an area that is already highly regulated.”
She argued that the plan works against the corporate manslaughter proposal, which sees responsibility shifted from a named director to a collective source.
The TUC said firms should start planning now for the new arrangements.
By Philip Whiteley