Case studies

Successful leadership

There are many benefits to be gained from successful leadership in health and safety, as these case studies show.

Case study - North Staffordshire Combined Healthcare NHS Trust

The board found itself facing service improvement targets. Using new corporate and clinical guidance, it set about taking a 'whole systems' approach to managing corporate risk, giving one of its directors responsibility for the leadership of health and safety for the first time. Health and safety was also made a key item on the board agenda.

This has resulted in a much better integrated health and safety management system that increases the opportunity to identify and manage all corporate risks, and a much more open culture, improving reporting and monitoring. The board actively promotes a culture that gives staff the confidence to report incidents. This has resulted in:

  • incidence rates reduced by 16% over two years;
  • insurance premiums reduced by 10%.

Case study - British Sugar

British Sugar had an excellent safety record and was devastated in 2003 when it suffered three fatalities. Although health and safety had always been a business priority, the company recognised that a change in focus was needed to achieve behavioural change. This included:

  • the CEO assigning health and safety responsibilities to all directors, and monthly reports go to the board;
  • creating effective working partnerships with employees, trade unions and others;
  • overseeing a behavioural change programme and audits;
  • publishing annual health and safety targets, and devising initiatives to meet them.

Results include:

A two thirds reduction in both lost time and minor injury frequency rates over a 10 year period.

much greater understanding by directors of health and safety risks.

Case study – Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service

To give health and safety a high priority, Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service recognised that it was critical for its leadership to demonstrate to its staff that accountability for health and safety was a fundamental element in the success of its overall service delivery. The director of service policy and planning was nominated as the health and safety director for the service in order to clearly define the importance this subject held within the organisation. The director implemented a revised health and safety framework, which included a programme of fire station visits to engage the workforce, and placed a renewed emphasis on improving incident reporting, investigation and monitoring procedures. The service has reported:

  • £100,000 reduction in insurance liability premiums in one year through improved corporate strategic risk management;
  • 50% reduction in sickness absence through work related injury over a two year period;
  • 50% reduction in injury incidence rate over a three year period.

Case study – Sainsbury's

An external health and safety audit identified a need to develop a unified approach, and also recommended more direction from the board, to develop an effective strategy.

The result was a radical revision of the company's approach, including:

  • the group human resources director creating a health and safety vision, supported by a plan with targets over three years;
  • training on health and safety responsibilities was introduced for all board directors.

This has resulted in:

  • the board providing a role model for health and safety behaviour;
  • 17% reduction in sickness absence;
  • 28% reduction in reportable incidents;
  • improved morale and pride in working for the company;
  • raising the profile of health and safety so it is becoming embedded in the culture of the organisation.

When leadership falls short

Many high-profile safety cases over the years have been rooted in failures of leadership. When board members do not lead effectively on health and safety management, the consequences can be severe. These examples mark issues for all boards to consider.

Competent advice, training and supervision

Following the fatal injury of an employee maintaining machinery at a recycling firm employing approximately 30 people, a company director received a 12-month custodial sentence for manslaughter. The machinery was not properly isolated and started up unexpectedly.

An HSE and police investigation revealed there was no safe system of work for maintenance; instruction, training and supervision were inadequate. HSE's investigating principal inspector said: 'Evidence showed that the director chose not to follow the advice of his health and safety adviser and instead adopted a complacent attitude, allowing the standards in his business to fall.'


The managing director of a manufacturing company with around 100 workers was sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment for manslaughter following the death of an employee who became caught in unguarded machinery. The investigation revealed that, had the company adequately maintained guarding around a conveyor, the death would have been avoided.

The judge made clear that whether the managing director was aware of the situation was not the issue: he should have known as this was a long-standing problem. An area manager also received a custodial sentence. The company received a substantial fine and had to pay the prosecution's costs.

Risk assessment

A company and its officers were fined a total of £245,000 and ordered to pay costs of £75,500 at Crown Court in relation to the removal of asbestos. The company employed ten, mostly young, temporary workers; they were not trained or equipped to safely remove the asbestos, nor warned of its risk. The directors were also disqualified from holding any company directorship for two years and one year respectively.

Institute of Directors Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland

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Updated 2021-01-15