Director’s Duties back on the agenda with new MP’s Bill

A new Private Members Bill has been put before the House of Commons. The Health and Safety (Company Director Liability) Bill would amend the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (“HSWA”) to place further statutory duties on directors. Currently, directors can be prosecuted as well as the company under Section 37 HSWA if the offence is proved to have been committed with the ‘consent or connivance of, or to have been attributable to any neglect on the part of’ any director (or person purporting to act in a similar capacity) of the company.

At present, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Institute of Directors encourage company boards to comply with their joint guidance issued in 2007. This voluntary compliance is designed to encourage directors to adopt good health and safety practice in the workplace. The guidelines take a common sense approach, highlighting the importance of good practice and procedures. Setting out a four-step process to establish essential health and safety principles, the publication also gives a brief overview of legal liabilities, a checklist of key questions for leaders and a list of resources and references for implementing the guidance in practice.

However the HSE is shortly to recommend to ministers whether or not further statutory duties should be introduced as in previous surveys undertaken, it was found that comparatively few organisations are aware of the guidance and fully utilise it in practice.

Due for its second reading on 23 April, the Bill was introduced under the ‘Ten Minute Rule’ by Frank Doran, MP for Aberdeen North. Only two bills introduced under the Ten Minute Rule have become law since 1998 and the rule is mainly used by MP’s to raise the profile of an issue. The issue of statutory duties on directors has been a point of contention for a considerable period of time as it is felt that the current approach is not working.

This article first appeared in Law-Now, CMS Cameron McKenna's free online information service, and has been reproduced with their permission. For more information about Law-Now, please go to www.law-now.com.