Rail Safety Week: Personal liability and how you can make a difference to workplace culture

As part of Rail Safety Week 2023, Health and Safety specialist Hayley Saunders looks at personal liability and how employees across all levels of a business can make a difference by positive individual contribution to workplace culture.

Below is a summary of key takeaways from the webinar.

Responsibility for workplace safety rests with employers and employees alike.

It is the organisation’s responsibility to ensure adequate systems and procedures are in place to guard against any risks to health and safety. 

Employees are responsible for adhering to these systems and co-operating with their employer. Whilst employers will always look towards occupational safety and health (OSH) professionals for guidance on all things health and safety, employers, through its directors and senior managers, are responsible for deciding on direction, resource, systems and everything else that allows for successful application of their guidance. 

Culture is key and an important part in the successful implementation of any health and safety system. The webinar highlights issues to look out for and provides practical advice for businesses in dealing with this. 


As reported by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in 2021/22 alone work related ill health was recorded across 1.8 million workers. 51% was due to stress, anxiety or depression and 27% due to Musculoskeletal disorders. 

In terms of prosecutions, in 2021-22 there were 290 HSE prosecutions. In 2016-17 there were twice as many and numbers have decreased annually until 2020-21 to a low of 206. The conviction rate, however, has been approximately 95% for the last few years and in 2021-2022 there were five prosecutions which resulted in fines in excess of £1million.

Overview of health and safety law and directors’ duties

When looking at key health and safety law within the UK, the following three-tiered framework applies:

  • Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974;
  • Health and Safety Regulations (over 150);
  • Approved Codes of Practice (“ACOP”).

All safety compliance should be driven from the top and form part of performance management, with the board appropriately briefed on matters relevant to health and safety. Responsibility cannot be delegated, it can never be abdicated or passed around. Tasks, however, can be delegated accordingly. 

Board procedures should be clearly established and recorded, including giving health and safety prominent status compared to other agenda items.

The IOD and HSE has prepared a helpful guidance for Directors Leading Health and Safety at Work. 


If an organisation is found guilty of a health and safety offence or corporate manslaughter, the organisation will be facing an unlimited fine. In relation to corporate manslaughter, the Court can also consider the imposition of a publicity order requiring the company to publicise details of the conviction and fines. It’s important to note that the level of fine will be dependent on the turnover, not profit, of the organisation. The court can also impose a remedial order which requires the company to address and fix the cause of any incident.

Any individual prosecuted and convicted of a health and safety breach, may be at risk of imprisonment for a period of up to two years. When sentencing health and safety breaches, courts look at the culpability of the offender and the level of harm risked.


It’s extremely important for businesses to look at cracking the stigma associated with health and safety within a workplace. Not only is there a legal duty involved on all sides, but there is also a key moral focus on it just being the right thing to do.

Previous studies have found that attitudes to health and safety are determined by the bosses, not the organisation’s size and that by creating an atmosphere of trust across all levels, can be paramount to avoiding such incidents from occurring. An organisation will never be able to achieve the highest standards of health and safety management without the active involvement of directors and management. 

The most effective process is to identify the frustrations amongst workers, rather than only focusing on the short-term issues ahead, while also involving workers on the journey to finding the best solution. 

Health and safety policies that have “buy in” and support from all areas of the business, ensuring good two-way communication, always tend to be those most taken onboard.

A positive mindset is crucial. It is vital that everybody understands they have a legal responsibility for health and safety to themselves and others. 

Liability doesn’t just rest with the employer – it extends to directors, senior officers and employees. Do feel free to contact Hayley further, if a board training session or conversation would be useful to explore next steps for your firm.


This information is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. Please contact us for specific advice on your circumstances. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024.



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