How company directors can drive health and safety

03 December 2015

How one construction company maintains robust health and safety measures by putting it on the agenda at every board meeting.

The UK’s health and safety (H&S) landscape has been redrawn by new guidelines.

Company directors who breach H&S laws could soon face much bigger fines and tougher prison sentences, due to the Sentencing Council’s definitive sentencing guidelines

The guidelines will to apply to H&S and corporate manslaughter prosecutions from early 2016, if not before, and are expected to be retrospective.

Word from the top

Good health and safety (H&S) management starts at the top of an organisation, says David Brierley, Health & Safety Manager, Wingate Building Services. H&S management is on the agenda at every board meeting, at which the board reviews a report on H&S prepared by Brierley. 

One board member has specific responsibility for H&S – Brierley’s top-level ‘H&S champion’ – although H&S issues are discussed by the entire board. 

For example, the board recently discussed and approved investing in new drop-down roof racks, which remove the working at height risks to employees when loading/removing ladders, etc. from the roof of company vans. 

A step ahead

Managing H&S risk is clearly a priority for a construction company, but Wingate also sees it as a competitive advantage, explains Brierley. 

“We see it as a natural fit with sales – the same board member is responsible for both functions. 

“If we show that we have robust H&S, it helps to win contracts. We actively sell our services on our H&S record.” 

As a family run business, the managing director and majority of board members have first-hand experience of working onsite and know the importance of H&S. 

“We are fortunate that our management can talk to employees without prejudice or rank,” says Brierley. 

“The managing director will engage with the workforce and is always looking for innovative ways to make the job better, safer and easier.” 

The ability to relate to employees at every level is important to demonstrate leadership and engender a safety culture in the company, explains Brierley. 

“Our managing director is very H&S conscious and spends a lot of time, money and resource on getting the message across. And we can see that this is paying off,” he says.

Walk the walk

Wingate also sees value in conforming with safety standards, such as those set by the H&S Executive, British Standards or the Achilles supplier network. Such standards provide a useful external audit of the company’s H&S management, in addition to its own independent internal audit function. 

“Getting good policies in place is obvious, but important. People need to buy into them from the top down. 

“Some companies produce a H&S policy as a tick box exercise, but management need to get behind them and enforce them,” says Brierley. 

Stronger message

Training is another key aspect of H&S management, Brierley says. “No one wants to look soft on a construction site. But if you can get people to think about the consequences of their actions – and how it may affect their families if they were to be injured – the message gets across,” he says.

The new H&S sentencing guidelines will have an impact, Brierley believes. 

As a consequence of the changes, Wingate increased the numbers of regional directors to oversee H&S management at a local level, in addition to board level involvement, explains Brierley. “Higher fines and custodial sentences do make senior management sit up and listen.”

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For more information, please contact Charlie Wenborn, Head of Leeds Risk Practice on +44 (0)113 203 5836