Health and safety growing in importance to firms

Businesses are adopting a more 'hands-on' approach to health and safety issues, a new survey has suggested.

The survey, carried out by the manufacturers' organisation, the EEF, found that, over the past three years, a greater emphasis has been placed on health and safety policies at the highest levels of company management.

Now 81 per cent of boardrooms discuss health and safety as a regular item compared with 58 per cent in 2006.

Almost three-quarters of companies (73 per cent) set and monitor targets for health and safety, as opposed to just over half (53 per cent) in 2006.

While 91 per cent of companies identify the health and safety responsibilities of senior managers compared with 77 per cent in 2006.

Steve Pointer, head of health and safety at the EEF, said: "Leadership of health and safety is extremely important. Our survey confirms that there has been a sea change in director involvement - active leadership is now very definitely the norm, not the exception.

"Recent legal changes, insurance considerations and a campaign by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and other organisations have all played a part in that improvement."

Mr Pointer used the findings of the survey to make the case against introducing possible new legal duties for directors.

He added: "With the effect of those legal changes still feeding through the system it makes no sense to introduce a new law now. We urge HSE to stick with the current approach and are keen to continue lending our active support."

The EEF is concerned that imposing extra statutory duties would lead to a 'box ticking' mentality aimed at protecting board members instead of protecting employees.

Reducing health and safety risks, the survey indicated, owes more to promoting good policies, along with a robust enforcement of the existing duty on directors, than to introducing new legislation.

According to the survey of 400 firms, the greatest area of concern amongst employers is unnecessary bureaucracy, particularly in its effects on small businesses.

Mr Pointer continued: "In recent years, the HSE has made significant efforts to reduce regulatory burdens. Our survey shows that further work is needed to reduce burdens from existing legislation and to resist new legislation, most of which now emanates from EU directives."