• Robert Spicer

Directors’ liability for health and safety offences

HEALTH AND SAFETY AT WORK, ETC. ACT 1974: LEADING CASES (7)

Section 37 of the 1974 Act deals with offences by companies. It states, in summary, that where an offence committed by a company is proved to have been committed with the consent or connivance of, or is attributable to any neglect of the part of any director, manager, secretary or similar office of the company, that person is also guilty of the offence.

A leading case on the interpretation of this section is R v P Ltd and Another (2007), Court of Appeal.

P Ltd was responsible for the management of an area where a child died as the result of an accident involving a forklift truck which was carrying an unsecured load. G was the managing director of the company and it was alleged that he had ultimate responsibility for ensuring that the company complied with safe systems of work, and that he knew about the unsafe practice of carrying unsecure loads. He was charged under section 37.

At a preparatory hearing at Croydon Crown Court it was ruled that an offence under section 37 needed subjective knowledge by the officer of the company of the material facts which gave rise to the offence. The Health and Safety Executive appealed to the Court of Appeal. That Court ruled as follows:

  • An offence was committed by an officer of a company which broke health and safety laws through his behaviour if he either knew of the relevant facts giving rise to the offence or, if he did not know, should by reason of the circumstances have been put on inquiry as to whether the relevant safety procedures were in place.

  • If the officer had no actual knowledge of the relevant state of facts, the question would always be whether, none the less, he should have been put on inquiry by reason of the surrounding circumstances, so as to have made inquiries concerning whether the relevant safety procedures were in place.

  • That question depended upon evidence given at the trial.

  • The correct standard of proof to be established for the commission of an offence through neglect, under the Act of 1974, was a state of fact which required action to be taken, of which an individual ought to have been aware, and into which appropriate investigation ought to have been made.

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