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Director leadership

Director or Senior Manager? How are you measuring up to the health and safety leadership challenge?

A picture of a directors

In too many organisations senior managers still tend to regard H&S as a low level, technical, or regulatory compliance issue, rather than a key strategic aspect of business performance.

RoSPA seeks to raise awareness of the need for effective board level and senior management leadership of H&S management. RoSPA wants to create a clearer expectation that boards should set targets, review progress and report periodically on corporate H&S performance, recognising the business benefits which high H&S standards can contribute to commercial success. RoSPA also believes that senior managers must lead H&S management by personal example.

The importance of director leadership

A challenge exists to enhance the competence of organisations (and in particular of managers) to address health and safety as an integral part of business management. Strengthening the leadership role and influence of board level directors is particularly important, especially so in large organisations because of their potential to influence health and safety in smaller businesses via the supply and contracting chain.

Health and safety management

Director engagement with OS&H

The management system approach, informed by risk assessment and characterised by multiple feed-back loops from monitoring and review, has been promoted in HSE's guidance ‘Managing for Health and Safety’ HSG65 which stresses the potential of a 'systems' approach to enhance standards of health and safety.

Despite the success of publications such as HSG65, there is evidence that many organisations are failing to understand the position of OS&H in relation to total quality management (TQM) and business excellence models or the potential of such models to inform and improve their approach to OS&H management. Leadership and continuous improvement with respect to OS&H is often far behind that for product or service quality and a key influencing factor is insufficient appreciation of the 'business case' for OS&H at director level.

In part this may be because many directors, particularly those in smaller firms, have not fully understood or responded to contemporary OS&H concepts:

For example, they may:

  • perceive OS&H as a technical and regulatory compliance issue; but
  • fail to understand the goal setting approach to OS&H law;
  • see health and safety requirements as over-restrictive or 'burdensome'; and
  • wrongly interpret HSE guidance as having prescriptive regulatory force;
  • see regulations as being too vague and/or impossible to comply with; and
  • fail to fully appreciate the 'business case' for OS&H.

Strengthening director involvement

Greater uptake of pro-active risk management is unlikely unless there is increased commitment to OS&H from senior business leaders. Factors which are likely to stimulate greater director involvement in OS&H include:

  • ethical considerations;
  • official guidance on directors' OS&H roles;
  • the 'business case' for OS&H (including loss of corporate credibility following accidents etc);
  • OS&H law and enforcement;
  • client pressure;
  • trades union and workforce involvement;
  • the impact of common law claims;
  • shareholder, public and political expectations;
  • legislative reform to enhance corporate and director liability; and
  • higher standards of corporate governance.

Measuring OS&H Performance

RoSPA suggests that one of the reasons why OS&H receives less board level attention than other business priorities is because of the difficulty in measuring effectiveness in responding to what is a complex, multi-dimensional challenge. Find out more about measuring OS&H performance.

Reporting on corporate health and safety performance

In order to manage health and safety effectively, it is essential that, periodically, organisations should set out a clear and concise account of their performance against strategy for the whole workforce, but especially for managers, safety representatives and health and safety professionals. This is to enable all employees to understand progress in achieving corporate health and safety objectives and for those with management responsibilities to communicate such information to key internal and external audiences.

Find out more about reporting on corporate H&S performance.

GoPOP 'Going Public on Performance'

GoPOP 'Going Public on Performance' is a corporate performance web portal.

RoSPA encourages organisations to report openly their progress in the sphere of occupational safety and health. Doing so not only encourages the reporting organisation to keep improving its standards, but also sets a benchmark against which other organisations can measure their performance.

Find out more about GoPOP at:

DASH – Director Action on Safety and Health Report, RoSPA, 2011

This report, prepared by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) with input from a wide variety of 'key players' and experts, presents consensus and best practice advice on measuring and accounting for corporate health and safety performance. Find out more about DASH.

Past RoSPA initiatives include: Back to the Floor (BTTF) and Targets for Change

Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act

Although criminal charges brought under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 in the event of a death will relate to corporations and not individuals, significant failure by directors to comply with the guidance - Leading health and safety at work is likely to form an important part of the evidence necessary to secure conviction. It will also be relevant in considering the guilt of any director or senior manager charged with "consent, connivance or neglect" in relation to offences under Section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSW Act Section 37).

Find out more about involuntary manslaughter.


Leading health and safety at work – Actions for directors, board members, business owners and organisations of all sizes

This joint guidance from the Institute of Directors and the HSE, which applies equally to the private, public and voluntary sectors, sets out core actions and suggests good practices which business leaders should take to ensure that health and safety issues are being managed effectively within their organisations and that they are keeping health and safety performance under review.

There are three essential principles:

  1. Strong and active leadership from the top
  2. Worker involvement
  3. Assessment and review.

The guidance contains a health and safety leadership checklist which is designed to assist directors in ensuring they are delivering this important agenda within their organisation.

This guidance should also be viewed against the backdrop of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 which came into force in April 2008.


RoSPA offers a range of services to help boards review and develop their leadership engagement. Visit RoSPA's directors' consultancy and safety training services.

RoSPA cannot be held responsible for the accuracy or completeness of any pages on linked websites.

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