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The increasing relevance of OHSAS 18001 for SMEs

23 January 2013

Introduced in 1999 as the health and safety management standard, OHSAS 18001 soon became the chosen path for organisations wishing to take health and safety seriously. Working towards OHSAS 18001 and achieving certificat

Introduced in 1999 as the health and safety management standard, OHSAS 18001 soon became the chosen path for organisations wishing to take health and safety seriously.

Working towards OHSAS 18001 and achieving certification allowed organisations to responsibly manage health and safety issues and put in place a system to effectively reduce accidents and prevent fatalities.

With the introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter Act coming into force in April 2008, health and safety management has become more important than ever.

The first corporate manslaughter prosecution in the UK was brought against a geological survey company after the death of an employee in September 2008. The case began in June last year and is set to continue. In addition to the corporate manslaughter charge the company faces further charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act, and a director has been personally charged with manslaughter due to gross negligence. A conviction for gross negligence manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Under the terms of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, an organisation is guilty of corporate manslaughter if the way in which its activities are managed or organised causes a person's death, and amounts to a breach of duty by the organisation/senior management. If found guilty of Corporate Manslaughter, an organisation can face an unlimited fine. It may also be required to publicise details of the offence and the courts' findings in a 'publicity order'.

Increasing legislation and bureaucracy may faze smaller organisations, but it is imperative that health and safety awareness is improved by organisations of all sizes and precautionary measures put in place. Failure to take responsibility for occupational health and safety within your organisation could lead to serious consequences. Particularly because it is far easier to bring manslaughter charges against individual members of staff in smaller organisations, where senior management has greater influence/involvement in the day-to-day running of the organisation, and can therefore be held responsible for such incidents.

Business owners and senior managers need to be aware of the risks to both employees within the organisation and the organisation itself. This includes the safety of employees, financial penalties, reputation and personal convictions relating to a gross breach of a duty of care and serious health and safety management failures.

Organisations large and small should be taking practical steps to satisfy legislation and meet health and safety standards. As with the fatal incidents that are currently being investigated under the Corporate Manslaughter Act, factors such as whether the organisation has health and safety guidance and codes of practice will be taken into account.

It could also be argued that by introducing the Corporate Manslaughter Act the Government is now taking a stand on health and safety compliance and making an example of smaller organisations that think they are exempt from implementing efficient health and safety measures.

Proactive organisations, no matter their size, should make certain that they have these vital health and safety management procedures in place and that responsibilities are understood and adhered to. Any organisation that has five or more members of staff needs to have a documented system regarding health & safety policy and risk assessment to adhere to health and safety legislation.

The current corporate manslaughter cases should be enlightening organisations and helping them to understand that there are standards such as OHSAS 18001 that can help them.

OHSAS 18001 helps an organisation control its activities and offers a robust system to manage, record and review health and safety processes. Once systems are in place reviews and audits allow organisations to manage their systems and make continuous improvements, whilst meeting safety requirements.

Health and safety is no longer just the responsibility of the health and safety officer, but the responsibly of every business owner and employee. So a health and safety conscious culture is essential for good health and safety management. What it costs an organisation to implement a health and safety management system is of course incomparable to the loss of a life.

David Winterburn is a health and safety assessor at NQA