Everything about responsibilities for Health and Safety

Having a clear understanding of what is meant by “responsibilities” (as far as health and safety legislation is concerned) is absolutely fundamental to designing, implementing and managing any H&S system.  If directors, owners, managers and workers don’t understand what their legally-assigned responsibilities are, which is often the case, then it is far more likely that accidents will occur and court proceedings ensue.

It is very common to find people at every level in an organisation who have only a vague awareness, if any, of what they are responsible for when it comes to health and safety.  It’s always “someone else’s job”, or “management deal with that” or “we live in the real world – if we worked according to health and safety rules we’d never get anything done”.  I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard this last remark.

The truth is that those at the top set the tone for the rest of the organisation.  If they take health and safety seriously – not over the top, but have a sensible approach – then the rest of the workforce will follow. 

Before the 1974 Act, work was a dangerous occupation in many industries.  Between 1000 and 2000 deaths per year from “accidents” was the norm (very different from today’s average of 130-140 deaths per year).  Dreadful tragedies, such as the Aberfan disaster, occurred – this was a direct result of the National Coal Board not following its own rules on the management of waste tips.  In 1974, the Health and Safety at Work etc Act was introduced, imposing many duties on employers.


  • Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974
  • Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007

Prosecutions can be brought under criminal law, for example by the Health and Safety Executive or a local authority.  Claims can be made under civil law, for example by an affected person bringing a claim for compensation.


Frequently asked questions

This is a very good, and vital, question. Too often, Directors and business owners nominate a CP and then think they have discharged their duty. It is essential that health and safety has representation at Board level. Ideally, the CP should attend Board meetings, even if only for the health and safety discussion. If an organisation contravenes health and safety legislation, it is the Directors and business owners who will be in trouble, so they must be satisfied that all is in order. In addition to the Board meetings, Directors and business owners should request at least monthly reports from the CP giving details of any issues, confirmation that required maintenance and inspections are up-to-date, that training is up-to-date, that risk and COSHH assessments have been reviewed and so on. We also recommend that Directors and business owners randomly sample the records rather than just accepting that the CP’s report is accurate.

Firstly, check out the definition of competence!  Who meets the criteria?  Or who do you think could be trained and supported to become a successful CP? Depending upon your organisation’s activities, the role requires a certain number of hours per week to be dedicated to carrying out the necessary duties.  o don’t give the role to someone who is already very busy unless you can offload some of their duties on to a colleague.  A good CP must be able to command respect among all workers at all levels. As the Director or business owner, you must back them up and endorse their decisions, otherwise you will undermine their authority.

The best way is for the CP to have an external health and safety qualification and/or membership of an external body such as IOSH. To maintain membership, the CP will have to provide regular written evidence of Continual Professional Development (CPD). If your organisation isn’t big enough or is in a low-risk industry, then it might be sufficient just to sign up to the relevant HSE notifications.  If your organisation belongs to a trade body, check to see whether they provide relevant health and safety advice and information.  Finally, CPs should ask for additional training if he or she thinks it is necessary.