Well there’s a question that is bound to divide our colleagues in the Health and Safety profession but at the same time there is no point in being the proverbial Ostrich and burying your head in the sand.
What drove it home to me this week was the fact that after 28 years, six people were charged with either misconduct or manslaughter relating to the deaths of those in Hillsborough! These six people did not fire a gun or blow up a bus. Each of the six people went to work that morning, very well intentioned, with their main role of providing the safety of those in their care. What happened at Hillsborough was an absolute tragedy for all concerned including the victims and their families. Now six people, who were responsible for safety, are facing charges of misconduct and manslaughter. Now I don’t know if those six people are guilty of not and it would certainly seem that when the s**t hit the fan that people dived for cover, but what I do know is that this case will have strong repercussions for anyone in a position of authority for the safety and well being of those in their care.
Of course some might say that that’s the UK and that isn’t applicable here but one of the first things I did when the news broke, was to double check legislation and guidance here in Ireland. It turns out that the legislation to find Health and Safety Managers liable is already in place and as such it is only a matter of time before we see a test case. Up till recently the focus has been on the employer’s liability and there have been a number of successful prosecutions in this regard. When I started to scratch the surface it appears that the definition of ‘employer’ as set out in the 2005 Act includes not only the person who has a contract of employment with an employee but also a person under whose control and direction an employee works!!! I can see it now…..The insurer of an employer who is in the dock, trying to mitigate damages by assigning a certain amount of blame or liability to a Health and Safety Manager.
Under the 2005 Act responsibility for safety and health is placed directly on those in charge in the workplace. In other words, directors and managers who control the work being done must take on this responsibility. Of course there is an argument that the Health and Safety Manager does not “control” the workplace as defined under the Act, but I tell you I wouldn’t be betting the house on winning that one in the dock. At best I see it as 50/50 or depending on which way the wind blows that day. It’s scary stuff.
So in my opinion this case changes the game altogether and I would urge all our colleagues to be more “forthright” and “assured” in their day to day jobs. We see so many colleagues who are appointed into positions that have all the liability but have very little voice when it comes to doing what they believe needs to be done. Very often this is driven by financial constraints, very often this is driven by the fact that they are contracting and not employed directly, and very often it is driven by the fact that operations have a larger say. Regardless of the situation you find yourself in do not be afraid to speak up (and put on paper) your recommendations for the safety of those in your control. After all it appears that it’s only a matter of time before someone in Ireland is made an example of!
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About Damian Donlon.
Damian is a Non Executive, Senior Consultant, Interim Manager and Talent Adviser with specialist experience in the Construction & Technology sectors. Please feel free to contact him directly on 0879218616 for a confidential conversation.