Plan the direction for health and safety

The board should set the direction for effective health and safety management. Board members need to establish a health and safety policy that is much more than a document – it should be an integral part of your organisation's culture, of its values and performance standards.
All board members should take the lead in ensuring the communication of health and safety duties and benefits throughout the organisation. Executive directors must develop policies to avoid health and safety problems and must respond quickly where difficulties arise or new risks are introduced; non-executives must make sure that health and safety is properly addressed.

Core actions

To agree a policy, boards will need to ensure they are aware of the significant risks faced by their organisation. The policy should set out the board's own role and that of individual board members in leading the health and safety of its organisation. It should require the board to:

  • 'own' and understand the key issues involved;
  • decide how best to communicate, promote and champion health and safety.

The health and safety policy is a 'living' document and it should evolve over time, for example, in the light of major organisational changes such as restructuring or a significant acquisition.

How can it be done

  • Health and safety should appear regularly on the agenda for board meetings.
  • The chief executive can give the clearest visibility of leadership, but some boards find it useful to name one of their number as the health and safety 'champion'.
  • The presence on the board of a health and safety director can be a strong signal that the issue is being taken seriously and that its strategic importance is understood.
  • Setting targets helps define what the board is seeking to achieve.
  • A non-executive director can act as a scrutiniser – ensuring that the processes to support boards facing significant health and safety risks are robust.

Case study: The board of an NHS trust were able to win reduced incidence rates and cut insurance premiums.

Corporate governance

For many organisations, health and safety is a corporate governance issue. The board should integrate health and safety into the main governance structures, including board sub-committees, such as risk, remuneration and audit.

The Turnbull guidance on the Combined Code on Corporate Governance requires listed companies to have robust systems of internal control, covering not just 'narrow' financial risks but also risks relating to the environment, business reputation and health and safety.

Institute of Directors Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland

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Updated 2021-01-15