Who’s driving your health and safety policy?

In light of the impact of the new Sentencing Guidelines, we look at positive steps directors and senior managers in the transport sector can take to avoid a breach in the first instance. 

On 1 February 2016 the new Guidelines for Sentencing of Health and Safety and corporate Manslaughter Offences were implemented. This presents directors and senior managers across the country with an opportunity to make a real difference to the direction of their businesses health and safety policy. A good starting point is to read or revisit the joint IOD/HSE Guidance document, Leading Health and Safety at Work.

Although 10 years since its initial publication, the Institute of Directors Guidance is no less relevant to managers in the Transport industry now than it was on publication; particular now that the Health and Safety Executive also have the board in their crosshairs when it comes to deciding whether or not to prosecute, it’s become even more relevant.

Not only are the new requirements under the Sentencing Guidelines encouraging Investigators and Prosecutors to look into organisations’ systems of health and safety management, seeking to establish the potential role of systemic failures in this regard, but they are increasingly looking upwards at how board level decisions set the tone of this approach.

The importance of Board level involvement was highlighted by the Court of Appeal in the case of R v Southern Water Services Ltd. In this case the Court emphasised that the most senior levels of management, including board level, should be demonstrating that they have considered and, crucially, are addressing the cause of any offending behaviours within their business. The Court made clear that in cases of the greatest seriousness, this would fall to the Chief Executive and main boards of companies to account for these areas.

This clearly presents an added challenge for the transport sector where, due to the vast range of activities undertaken from warehousing to wheel changing, it is not always easy for senior managers and directors to anticipate and monitor every aspect of their undertaking in the manner that the Courts now require.

As we move into a new landscape of health and safety enforcement, one that it is likely to welcome unprecedented levels of fines for such offences, we ask ourselves – what can directors and managers in the transport sector do to make a practical difference to their business?

Returning to the IOD Guidance, the essential principles when addressing health and safety are clearly stated:

  • Strong and active leadership from the top
  • Worker involvement
  • Assessment and review

What do these mean in practice?

When translated into a practical approach for a transport sector business, as a good starting point there is a clear four-point agenda suggested by the IOD for embedding those essential health and safety principles, supplemented by checklists and supporting materials:

1. Plan

As with all others aspects of a business’ management, the board must set the direction for effective health and safety management.

Are you satisfied at present that board members should take the lead in ensuring the communication of health and safety duties and benefits throughout the organisation? If not the case already, businesses should strive to ensure that health and safety policy emanates from the board room, running throughout the company’s practices. Whilst there is no quick solution to the above, particularly in transport sector where it can often be difficult to ensure uniform standards across every single area of your business, the following steps will go a considerable way to assisting with this goal:

  • Ensuring that health and safety matters appear as regular board agenda items
  • Appointing one board member as a Safety Champion
  • Considering, where resources permit, the appointment of a Health and Safety Director to the board
  • Setting key targets for the business
  • Tasking non-executive directors with scrutinising performance

2. Deliver

Not delivery of loads, but rather your Plan! Delivery depends upon the effectiveness of the management systems within your company. There is no quick fix for this issue which undoubtedly already takes up much of your day to day time.

On a practical basis one of the greatest aides is ensuring that there is an effective commitment of resource to health and safety management, both internally and externally where necessary. Boards must satisfy themselves that adequate risk assessments have been completed for the company’s undertaking and that safe practices and processes are in place.

Additional key steps at board level are:

  • Equipping board members with training and understanding of principles of risk management on a practical basis;
  • Actively reinforcing policies through board members’ adherence whilst on the shop/depot floor;
  • Considering individual commitment to areas when deciding upon appointments.

3. Monitor

Again, as with all areas of company policy, the success of health and safety management is dependent upon those systems for monitoring and reporting. If not already in place, companies regardless of their size should be considering how to facilitate relevant reporting at Board level and the degree of scrutiny to which they are subjected.

Beyond those routine reports regarding health and safety performance, top tips include:

  • Collecting workplace health and safety data to benchmark performance against others in your sector. This can be a useful tool for informing company direction/strategy and, where bucking the industry trend, a valuable tool for demonstrating an effective management of these issues.
  • Involving the wider workforce in monitoring exercises, encouraging both positive and negative reporting so as to create a culture of compliance.
  • For hauliers and logistics companies in particular, the use tachographs in vehicles and CCTV at depots can serve as a useful source of data in determining the health and safety practices of their employees.

4. Review

A periodic review of your company’s progress provides an opportunity to reflect upon how effective your system is at managing risk and protecting its employees.

As with the above section on monitoring, more important than identifying areas for improvement in the first place are those steps taken within an organisation to positively address them. Demonstrating a continual process of self-improvement can be extremely valuable if questions are ever raised about the business’s, or even board level commitment to the management of health and safety.

Be warned however! Nothing can serve as a greater aggravating factor in the investigation of a workplace incident than finding that the accident could readily have been prevented had a previous audit, review, near miss report etc. been picked up upon and rectified.

Steering Your Business to a Safe and Prosperous Destination

No matter how committed your business is to the principles of health and safety management, experience suggests that improvements can always be made. More importantly however, significant improvements can be realised by a few changes at the top.

On consideration of all of the recommendations above, it is the paramount role of your senior individuals and the positive impact that they can have across all aspects of a company’s operations that can make the biggest difference.

As Regulators and Courts will increasingly be looking upwards within organisations following an accident, one of the most effective means of preparing for this and avoiding the new heavy fines is to reappraise your approach to leading health and safety at work from the top and using the ever useful IOD guidance as your satnav to success.

For more information contact Nicholas Barker  : 0161 604 / 07920 775204 / Nicholas.barker@dwf.law

Find out more at: www.thelorrylawyer.com or follow us on Twitter @lorrylawyer

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