Work safety failures not just HR’s fault

One early, high-profile and successful prosecution of a major business
figure under a proposed law of corporate killing could be followed by a slump
in the accident statistics as business priorities are reassessed across the

This statement is from an article by the TUC’s general secretary and will
send a shudder down the spines of senior HR people in large corporations.

The offence of corporate killing is proposed in the draft Safety Bill
promised by the Home Office to be included in early legislation of the new
Parliament (see p1). Still up for discussion is whether the legislation will
force companies to nominate a director to be personally responsible for health
and safety or whether it will be a collective board responsibility.

Any HR director will welcome steps to improve health and safety in a company
to protect their staff and the public. And this piece of legislation will mean
companies will have to review their approach to health and safety policies,
test that they work and ensure managers can enforce it.

But it is unfair that HR directors should shoulder all the burden of
responsibility and then take the blame and punishment when things go
drastically wrong. Why should a personnel director be disqualified from acting
in a management role or, even worse, go to jail? A safety disaster could be
blamed on the finance director who did not agree to spending on safety, or
pinned on an operations director who failed to control workplace risk, rather
than an HR director who did not oversee safety induction training. The HR
manager can drive health and safety but the whole management board should take
collective responsibility for it.

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