Risk and responsibility in the public sector
Health and safety has been an important issue in UK business for several decades. The introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter Act is in many ways simply the final stage of recognising the importance of this to both the workforce and members of the public. Despite this, the introduction of management liability for the safe operation of a company is likely to result in further significant changes to corporate management policies.
Very few exceptions are provided for in the legislation for the new act. Notably, for the first time, the legislation specifically includes government departments. As a consequence local government officers will be as liable for management failings leading to death and injury as their counterparts in private industry.
Almost your every action — Highways maintenance, treating road in bad weather conditions, tree maintance — impacts on large numbers of members of the public. It is clearly important that each activity is subject to the appropriate level of scrutiny through the organisation, and that there are clear management guidelines for both policy development and its implementation.
The management of emergency services is only excluded from the provisions of the corporate manslaughter act when responding to a national emergency. Generally emergency services require an approach to risk management which is at least as robust as that for other sectors of the economy. Consideration must be given to civil as well as uniformed branches of any service, and this may include the safe management of extensive civil assets, such as buildings and training facilities.
The new act brings into force a number of important developments that all employees in positions of responsibility should be aware of. If you are responsible for an activity that results in death or injury, you need to be aware that your employer is not obliged to provide you with any protection - legal or financial - if you are prosecuted uner the terms of the new act.
A number of insurance companies are now looking at developing products for this new market, but your strongest defence remains a solid, proactive attitude towards managing safety at all levels. What are your responsibilties, and are you thinking seriously enough about managing your risks?