HSC - DETR Strategy statement June 2000

United Kingdom


This article highlights key liability and risk management issues which are contained in the government's statement on the future of health and safety. It affects all businesses and public bodies, and all suppliers of goods used commercially since they are regulated under the same legislation.


This important 57 page Strategy Statement follows a year of government review of the existing legislative frameworks and its goals for improving health and safety. The objective is to produce measurable improvements:-

  • Reduction in working days lost. Over 100,000 workers from work related injury and ill health by 30% by 2010.
  • Reduction in the incidence rate of fatal and major injuries by 10% by 2010.
  • Reduction in the incidence rate of work related ill health by 20% by 2010.
  • Achieve half these improvements by 2004.

44 Action Points are listed, ranging from issues of improving internal government communication to long-term goals for training and education and plans to enhance employment rights. There are also a significant number of indicators of government proposals for modifying the obligations of directors and managers, increased corporate accountability and greater use of enforcement through the criminal courts.

Corporate and Governmental Accountability

The HSC will promote new guidance by March 2001 for large businesses to report publicly to a common standard on health and safety issues, with the further aim of extending this to all businesses with more than 250 employees by 2004. However, the Company Law Review launched by the DTI will be running in parallel of this timetable and is due to report by Spring 2001: this report may include proposals for a statutory framework of company accounting, reporting and disclosure which could include health and safety performance.

The HSE will publicise prosecutions and penalties by 'naming and shaming' companies and individuals in a special annual report and on its website.

A Code of Practice on directors' responsibilities for health and safety will be developed which will require organisations to appoint an individual director responsible for health and safety (or an equivalent person in organisation which do not have a board). There may be further developments in defining statutory duties of directors and other responsible persons.

Without committing to a particular deadline, the government intends to remove Crown Immunity from statutory health and safety enforcement.

Increased Fines and Innovative Penalties

The government intends to increase the maximum fine in the lower courts for contravention of regulations to the same as that for offences in relation to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 - ie up to £20,000. It will also extend the powers of the courts to imprison offenders for most health and safety offences.

The HSC will also consider proposals for new types of sentences going beyond those traditionally available including:-

  • Fines linked to turnover;
  • Prohibition on directors' bonuses;
  • Suspension of managers without pay;
  • Suspended sentences pending remedial action;
  • Compulsory health and safety training;
  • Penalty points system akin to the drivers' licence arrangements;
  • Fixed penalty notices for specific offences;
  • Deferred prohibition notices on welfare issues;
  • Community service orders for companies.

The government is also sympathetic to removing the requirement for the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions before a private prosecution is brought, which would open the way for union backed prosecutions of employers and victims from their relatives brought under the 1974 Act.

Incident Reporting

The HSC will undertake a major review of incident reporting and RIDDOR and plans are being made for an integrated core centre for all employers to report incidents by telephone/fax/internet.

Worker Involvement

Among the government's strategic aims is more worker participation in health and safety management which forms part of its wider agenda on "partnership between employers and workers". However, the specific focus at present on the HSC's current consultation exercise on the future role of safety representatives and making funding available to Further Education colleges to run short courses.

Public Procurement Policy

It is intended that health and safety should be a significant factor in government departments' procurement decisions and that contract specifications should make explicit reference to health and safety requirements. Companies performing poorly on previous contracts maybe excluded from tendering opportunities unless they can demonstrate they have taken steps to achieve compliance.

The government also intends to support the new 'Clients' Charter' being launched later in 2000 as part of the Movement for Innovation in the construction industry.

Duty to Rehabilitate

The HSC will begin a consultation exercise on whether there should be specific statutory duties on employers with regard to retain and rehabilitate people in work who become disabled or who have persistent illness.

Freedom of Information

Section 28 of the Health and Safety Work Act, which currently prevents enforcement authorities from using information which they have obtained through their statutory powers for any other purpose, is viewed by the government as contrary to its freedom of information policies and the restriction will be abolished or amended.

The government will also take steps to enable HSC inspectors to have access to information held by other government authorities relating to business start-ups.

Insurance and Benefits

Another of the government's strategies is to adjust the compensation, benefits and insurance systems so that they positively motivate employers to improve health and safety performance. (Other than reference to various insurance industry initiatives which promote risk management and offer premium discounts to employers demonstrating high standards of health and safety no specific proposals are put forward in the document).

The insurance industry has agreed to distribute information on the HSC's forthcoming 'Ready Reckoner' with employers' liability insurance renewals - a means of assessing potential financial benefits of a action to improve health and safety management, developing further the government's "good health and safety is good business" message.

'Revitalising Health and Safety - Strategy Statement June 2000' can be read and downloaded from the DETR website: www.detr.gov.uk/hsw/pdf/strategy.pdf

Corporate governance, safety management systems, and the differing enforcement regimes among European countries are among subjects discussed by Mark Tyler of CMS Cameron McKenna in the recently published PLC Legal Risk Management Handbook (L&C Publishing, 2000, Tel: 0207 740 7878, www.plcinfo.com). This publication also includes chapters on related subjects such as environmental and product liability law, the latter written by Christopher Hodges, also of CMS Cameron McKenna.

Articles on legal risk management in relation to health and safety will be available in the Archive in future months.