PERSONAL LIABILITY OF MANAGERS FOR HEALTH AND SAFETY OFFENCES BY CORPORATES
In the context of modern business, most enterprises are run in the name of a corporate body; in the UK this is typically a limited company or a plc. That corporate entity will be the employer of the individuals on whose activities the carrying on of the business depends. That entity will therefore be under the duties imposed by the law to ensure the health and safety of those employees. In the event of a breach of health and safety law it will therefore primarily be the company which the enforcing authority (the HSE or the relevant local authority) will seek to hold to account. That means that if the enforcing authority decides to prosecute, it is the company that will be in the dock.
However, the law also enables the individuals through whom the company acts, to be held to account.
Under s37 Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, where it is proved that an offence under health and safety legislation committed by a company or other body corporate has been committed with the consent or connivance of, or have been attributable to any neglect on the part of a director, manager, secretary (this means a company secretary, as opposed to a PA) or similar officer, that person can be prosecuted for, and punished, for the same offence.
Where an employer commits an offence under the 1974 Act or under health and safety regulations, that offence is usually an offence of strict liability. That means that there is no need to show that the employer was at fault, but only that there was a failure to comply with the relevant legal requirement.
Oct-Dec 2015 issue
DLA Piper UK LLP