Many company managers seem to believe that health & safety management is a company matter, in other words if health & safety doesn’t come up to scratch and fines are levied they’ll simply be paid by the company.
It’s a very comforting idea – and it’s also completely wrong!
Under UK health & safety law there is a provision to prosecute a director or senior manager if, through their “knowledge, connivance or neglect” (a lovely turn of phrase!) they cause the company to breach health & safety law. If convicted of this offence (known as a Section 37 breach) the errant director or manager risks not only an unlimited fine but also a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years. And, of course, the company will also risk a heavy fine.
Do the courts actually use this Section 37 legislation? The answer is: “yes”.
For example, there was a case where the director of a construction company (an organisation where it was discovered that health & safety was an alien concept) was ordered to pay a £99,500 fine plus prosecution costs of £150,000. So he faced a personal bill of just under a quarter of a million pounds – with the risk of imprisonment if he failed to pay up.
Directors also face an additional penalty in that, under company law, a judge can order that they be disqualified from holding any management position in any organisation without the permission of the court. So his career as a professional manager can effectively be brought to a crashing halt.
The advice is clear: if you’re a manager with health & safety responsibility then you’d be wise to take it seriously unless you fancy prison food and a severely damaged wallet!