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Health and Safety: What Directors need to know!

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With great power comes great responsibility. For company directors, these responsibilities can present serious personal liabilities when things go wrong.

Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (“the Act”) contains the grounds under which a director can face criminal prosecution when their company is convicted of a health and safety offence.

A director will be found guilty of an offence where it is proved to have been committed with their consent, connivance or can be attributed to their neglect.

Consent is straightforward and arises where a health and safety failure occurred when the director had knowledge and awareness of the risks. For example, where a director gives permission to an individual to do something.

Connivance means knowing about a risk that could result in a health and safety failure, but not doing anything about it. Such situations often occur as a result of taking shortcuts because of a desire to save time and increase profits.

Neglect occurs where a director has a duty of care, and by neglecting that duty of care, in the context of health and safety, an accident occurs. In this circumstance, regardless of the director’s knowledge of the risk, they could be held personally liable.

Prosecutions of directors under s.37 of the Act highlight the importance of health and safety responsibilities to those directing companies. After all, the actions (or inactions) of a director can have a profound effect on the health and safety of employees and workers as well as the general public.

Along with the real risk of being sentenced to a term of imprisonment and/or being fined, there are number of other less obvious consequences associated with being convicted under the Act.

  • The Court can disqualify individuals from being a director for up to 15 years
  • HSE have adopted the practice of naming and shaming directors who are convicted under the Act
  • Convicted directors may also want to think twice about going on that international vacation or business trip, especially if this requires getting a visa and/or declaring criminal convictions
This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.
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