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The voice of the skip hire, recycling and waste industries in the UK & Ireland.

Effective Health and Safety Leadership

Since the introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act in 2007 we have seen 10 cases make it to the courts. Many of these cases have highlighted significant failings on the part of the companies, and provide a stark reminder to all Directors and Senior Managers of the importance of compliance with health and safety legislation. In many cases the failures have been rooted in poor leadership and management.

We often acknowledge that workers within the recycling industry can easily become complacent to the hazards associated with high risk work; yet this may also be true of those more senior within the organisation. It is easy to become ‘bogged down’ in the day-to-day management within a difficult to manage and constantly changing industry. Very few individuals will operate a business with the intention of hurting people or of failing to comply with safety legislation; however last year 25 prosecutions were heard against recycling companies, covering 41 charges. The maximum penalty under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 is an unlimited fine; under common law gross negligence manslaughter is also punishable by an unlimited fine and a maximum of life imprisonment.

The HSE statistics reveal the human and financial cost of failing to address health and safety. Each year:

  • Millions of working days are lost due to work-related illness and injury;
  • Thousands of people die from occupational diseases;
  • Around a million workers self-report suffering from a work-related illness;
  • Several hundred thousand workers are injured at work;
  • A worker is fatally injured almost every other working day.

Organisations can also incur additional costs – such as uninsured losses and loss of reputation.

Employers have a legal duty to manage the health and safety of employees and others who may be affected by their activities. Members of the board have both collective and individual responsibility for health and safety. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Institute of Directors have jointly published a guidance document “Leading Health and Safety at Work” which sets out an agenda for the effective leadership of health and safety. The guidance sets out essential principles that underpin the actions within the document and lead to good health and safety performance. The essential principles are:

  1. Strong and active leadership from the top:
  • Visible commitment from the board;
  • Establishing effective ‘downward’ communication systems and management structures;
  • Integration of good health and safety management with business decisions.
  1. Worker involvement:
  • Engaging the workforce in the promotion and achievement of safe and healthy conditions;
  • Effective ‘upward’ communication;
  • Providing high quality training.
  1. Assessment and review:
  • Identifying and managing health and safety risks;
  • Accessing (and following) competent advice;
  • Monitoring, reporting and reviewing performance.

The above guidance includes a useful checklist based on the PLAN – DO – CHECK – ACT model that is useful in establishing priorities for the continual improvement of health and safety within all organisations.


To agree a policy, boards will need to ensure they are aware of the significant risks faced by their organisation. The policy should set out the board’s own role and that of individual board members in leading the health and safety of its organisation. It should require the board to:

  • ‘Own’ and understand the key issues involved;
  • Decide how best to communicate, promote and champion health and safety.

The health and safety policy is a ‘living’ document and it should evolve over time, eg in the light of major organisational changes such as restructuring or a significant acquisition.


To take responsibility and ‘ownership’ of health and safety, members of the board must ensure that:

  • Health and safety arrangements are adequately resourced;
  • They obtain competent health and safety advice;
  • Risk assessments are carried out;
  • Employees or their representatives are involved in decisions that affect their health and safety.


The board should ensure that:

  • Periodic audits of the effectiveness of management structures and risk controls for health and safety are carried out;
  • The impact of changes such as the introduction of new procedures, work processes or products, or any major health and safety failure, is reported as soon as possible to the board;
  • There are procedures to implement new and changed legal requirements and to consider other external developments and events.


The board should review health and safety performance at least once a year. The review process should:

  • Examine whether the health and safety policy reflects the organisation’s current priorities, plans and targets;
  • Examine whether risk management and other health and safety systems have been effectively reporting to the board;
  • Report health and safety shortcomings, and the effect of all relevant board and management decisions;
  • Decide actions to address any weaknesses and a system to monitor their implementation;
  • Consider immediate reviews in the light of major shortcomings or events.

For further advice on developing an effective safety management system contact Debbie Williams at [email protected]


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