Fat Cat Directors and managers need to sit up and take note of health and safety law.
"Health and safety is a priority for those at the top of all organisations and they must be prepared to face the consequences of ignoring the law; in future that could well mean prison-.
John Prescott, June 2000. .
It already does. In fact, custodial sentences for directors (and others) have been possible since 1974 at least. (The introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act.) So why have only five individuals been detained at Her Majesties pleasure? Why have only eight Directors been disqualified since the introduction of the 1986 Company Director's Disqualification Act? The following will provide a background to the current legislation applicable to the UK, discuss its effectiveness, and the effect that new legislation proposed by the current government will have on the situation.
Background to current health and safety legislation.
Modern day law represents the accepted opinion that preventing an accident from happening is better than mitigating it's consequences. This has not always been the case. In earlier times, it was thought that making an employer pay compensation to workers who have suffered as the result of an accident, would encourage them to avoid accidents in the first place, thereby reducing the payouts made. In practice though, it proved extremely difficult for an employee to obtain compensation.
In the 19th century parliament introduced legislation in certain industries that covered specific hazards. Subsequent legislation was prescriptive in nature and specific to the trade it was intended to control, culminating in 1961 with the Factories Act. Then Lord Robens arrived and upset the status quo.
The Robens Report recommended that the " haphazard mass of ill assorted and intricate detail - of the existing legislation be replaced by a " comprehensive and orderly set of revised provisions under a new enabling Act.