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Institute of Directors: Launch of Directors’ Guidance

Judith Hackitt CBE, HSC Chair, 29 October 2007

First of all, let me add my personal thanks and congratulations to IoD for showing leadership themselves on this important topic. When one considers the wide range of organisations with ‘Boards’ of many different shapes and sizes, it is obvious that it was no easy task to undertake to produce guidance that meets all the needs of such a broad community. It is equally clear to me that such a challenging task could only be undertaken with the engagement of real stakeholders who have in depth knowledge of the community/audience and ‘speak their language’.

The Health and Safety Commission and Executive have been committed for some time to working in partnership with other organisations. The work which has taken place with IoD over the last 18 months is an exemplar of the kind of work we want to do more of with more organisations. The success of this particular piece of work is all the more notable given the wide range of views that exist among various stakeholders on how to tackle the issues of Directors’ Duties and responsibilities for health and safety.

I have spent most of my working life involved in industry sectors where health and safety was of paramount importance. My first employer made it very clear to me (and all of my cohorts) on Day 1 of my employment that health and safety was part of the organisation culture from the top to the bottom and the actions of that company bore out that this was for real. Thirty years ago it was the norm for me that all lost time accidents and potentially serious incidents were a matter for the Board and that every employee in that organisation would be formally appraised on their commitment to health and safety. To progress in that organisation it was clear that you had to show health and safety leadership. This is what board leadership on health and safety has to look like when it’s put into practice.

It is visible leadership from the top of an organisation which truly makes for an effective health and safety culture which in turn delivers good health and safety performance and much more. I am still confounded by the number of people who see ‘health and safety’ as a barrier to doing things – often expressed as health and safety stopping the business from producing, leading to loss of productivity and so on. Experience and evidence shows that the reverse is true – it is indeed possible to ‘have it all’ – companies/organisations who have a strong health and safety culture have a more committed and productive workforce because they know their employer cares about them.

Solutions to safety problems are generated by those closest to the problem and are often solved quickly, at low cost and lead to greater efficiency. The business benefits of health and safety should be a real driver for boards in all organisations not only those which exist for profit.

As well as recognising the importance of this guidance and the partnership working that has brought us to this point, we must also recognise that today marks the start of a process, and that is the process of delivery.

We are all aware that we live in an age of openness and one of increasing demands for accountability. The Commission has listened to strong views expressed by different groups – some of whom believe that the approach we are currently taking is by no means strong enough and that change to legislation is required to deliver on directors’ accountability.

Last year the Commission decided that further work was required to clarify the current position for directors and to measure the extent of changed behaviour before it could take a clear view on whether additional legislation is or is not desirable.

The guidance we are launching here today is one of three key measures which we now need to evaluate and measure their combined effectiveness.

The guidance will not only be used by directors, we also plan to use it extensively as a tool for inspectors

We have also issued further guidance to inspectors to clarify existing legal powers to enforce against directors and remind courts of their powers.

The third element of this approach is the potential impact on directors of wider legislative changes, notably the entry into force of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act which will make it easier to prosecute companies – and particularly large organisations - where in the past it has proven difficult to identify the existence of a single controlling or guiding mind.

It now falls to us all to deliver on these measures and to demonstrate their effectiveness. If any of these three elements do not deliver it is clear that we will need to revisit the question of need for change to legislation. We firmly believe in getting a balance of measures in place to achieve the desired outcome. The desired outcome is changed behaviour, greater more visible leadership and accountability for directors because we believe this leads to improved performance in health, safety and business. We are here today to launch this important guidance developed by directors for directors – we all believe it can make a big difference but the words must be translated into action and delivery.

Thank you.
Updated 2013-09-27