2.5 Statutory health and safety regime – a summary
Most developed nations now have statutory schemes which regulate health and safety in the workplace. As mentioned in Section 2.2.2, in the UK this takes the form of the HASAWA, which creates a comprehensive framework of controls.
A detailed knowledge of the scheme is beyond the scope of this course, but it is worth noting that the types of liability imposed on businesses take the form of both criminal and civil liability and that certain regulatory offences impose strict liability. The HASAWA imposes a statutory duty on employers to ensure that the workplace is safe. The duties are wide-ranging and they cover methods/systems of work, use of machinery and equipment and the training and supervision of staff. There are also specific regulations for the provision of health and safety standards in different industrial sectors.
Growing emphasis is placed on the development of safe working practices by businesses, the prevention of workplace incidents and the development of a safety-conscious culture. Organisations are increasingly encouraged to be proactive in their management of risk at work, to conduct health and safety audits, to carry out risk assessments of the impact of their activities and to formulate their own tailor-made health and safety policies.
The HSE and local authorities are charged with enforcing the provisions of the Act. Inspectors are deployed to ensure that businesses comply with their statutory obligations and to provide a source of advice and guidance in the workplace. They have wide powers of enforcement to address any breaches that they find. The health and safety regime is overseen by the Health and Safety Commission, which has a strategic policy role.
When you looked at the HSE’s annual statistics at the beginning of this course, you may have noticed that the statistics for the number of health and safety prosecutions are recorded. The figures for 2009/10 reveal that there were 737 convictions for health and safety offences, which represented total fines of £11.6 million (an average of £15,817 per breach). At the time of writing the largest fine ever imposed was £7.5 million on Balfour Beatty, the railway contractor which was found guilty of health and safety infringements in the Hatfield rail crash in 2000; Railtrack was also fined £3.5 million for its failure to supervise its contractor (Balfour Beatty). This crash was caused by the contractor’s failure to maintain the track adequately and resulted in four deaths and over one hundred people sustaining injuries.
The size of the fines imposed on business organisations is widely regarded as being an insufficient incentive to encourage large MNEs to be more proactive in this area. Arguably, fines need to be large enough to raise the concern not just of the organisation’s management, but of its shareholders, too. However, the broader costs of systemic corporate failings should not be underestimated: for instance, the estimated costs of £722 million for repairs and compensation as a consequence of the Hatfield crash was directly responsible for the commercial failure of Railtrack.