Fleet News

Health and safety gets backing from the top

A MAJOR health and safety drive in company boardrooms is set to put fleet executives under renewed pressure from their bosses to cut accidents among business car and van drivers.

Growing concern about corporate responsibility – in particular fears about the effect of any future corporate killing legislation – has sparked a dramatic increase in the number of boards that have taken direct control of health and safety issues. In many cases, one member of the board has become responsible for health and safety in a bid to drive wide-ranging improvements to company practice, including business travel.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) report, called 'Health and safety responsibilities of company directors and management board members' reveals that 82% of firms interviewed said they had a board-level person responsible for health and safety.

Of these, more than half have appointed a 'director' of health and safety, meaning that health and safety is likely to be their primary role.

Furthermore, 66% of companies direct all key health and safety issues at a boardroom level. The report says: 'Most organisations have board level representation already and display many examples of good practice. The surveys indicate there is room for a significant increase in the number of boards where a person is appointed as director for health and safety with that as their primary responsibility.'

Authors of the survey focus on large companies and public sector organisations and give a valuable insight into the growing importance placed on health and safety issues by company heads. They add: 'Safety professionals have long argued that effective safety leadership from the top of organisations is essential.

'Safety leadership is an element of many safety culture and safety management guides and best practice models. Indeed, directors in organisations that excel in safety demonstrate personal 'ownership' for safety. Without support from the top it is thought that efforts made by other people in the organisation will either be hampered by lack of resources or undermined by perceived conflicts with other organisational priorities.'

The report shows that as board members realise they might become directly responsible for key health and safety issues, there has been a growing take-up of 'directors and officers liability insurance', with 60% of UK directors now covered against the legal costs and exemplary damages arising from being sued personally for failing to prevent an incident.

It also asks key questions for the future, including whether the current increase in board responsibility for accidents removes the need for further action.

Last month, Fleet NewsNet revealed the HSE had announced plans to publish its generic guidance for employers on work-related road safety in the autumn. The guidance aims to alert employers to the driver safety issues they need to address when developing and implementing a risk management policy tailored to their particular circumstances.

  • For a copy of RR135: Health and safety responsibilities of company directors and management board members, log on to www.hse.gov.uk/research/rrhtm/rr135.htm.
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