Health & Safety Duties for Directors

What are the main duties of Directors under Health & Safety laws?

Health and safety is integral to success. Board members who do not show leadership in this area are failing in their duty as directors and their moral duty, and are damaging their organisation.”   Health & Safety Executive 

The main duties for directors are as follows:

  1. The organisation must appoint a competent person to help meet the health and safety duties: someone with the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to manage health and safety across all the organisation’s activities– i.e. not just on the premises but also when undertaking off-site trips and activities.
  2. Ensure you have an appropriate health and safety policy in place which details how you will manage health and safety. This should detail who does what, when and how.
  3. Undertake an appropriate risk assessment. Risk assessments will identify potential risks and then identify reasonable steps to control those risks. You should record the findings and then start to implement the control measures.
  4. Keep up to date with Health and Safety Executive guidance (e.g. on specific hazards and activities). There needs to be a very good reason for a failure to adhere to this guidance on best practice.
  5. Staff should be aware that any concerns should be reported to the Health and Safety lead.
  6. Ensure that appropriate policies are in place for managing any identified risks. Policies should be kept up to date and disseminated to staff and used in practice.
  7. Provide clear information and training to employees. Ensure they have the appropriate tools to do their job safely. Both long-standing employees and new joiners should receive appropriate training
  8. Keep good records and clear documentation.

The main obligations of an organisation to its employees and visitors are derived from various pieces of legislation, including the following main provisions:

Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSAWA) : The Act places a duty on every employer to ensure, ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’, the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees, and also ‘to conduct the undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons who are not in their employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.’

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 : This details the steps employers are required to take to manage their health and safety obligations under the HSAWA. These include: employers to carry out risk assessments, make arrangements to implement necessary measures, appoint competent people to oversee health and safety and arrange for appropriate information and training for staff and visitors.

Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 : These cover a wide range of basic health, safety and welfare issues such as ventilation, heating, lighting, workstations, seating, drinking water and welfare facilities.

Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 : Require employers to provide appropriate protective clothing and equipment for their employees.

Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 : Require that equipment provided for use at work, including machinery, is safe.

Health and Safety Information for Employees Regulations 1989 : Require employers to display a poster telling employees what they need to know about health and safety.

Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR) : Require employers to notify certain occupational injuries, diseases and dangerous events to the relevant authorities.

Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) : Require employers to assess the risks and control substances which are hazardous to health, such as asbestos, cleaning products and chemicals.

Employer’s Liability Insurance

If you have employees or apprentices you must carry employer’s liability insurance. This insurance will enable you to meet the cost of compensation for your employees’ injuries or illness whether they are caused on or off site. You must be insured for at least £5 million. However, you should look carefully at your risks and liabilities and consider whether you need more than £5 million. In practice, most insurers offer cover of at least £10 million. You must display a copy of the certificate of insurance where your employees can easily read it.

You can be fined up to £2500 for any day which you are without suitable insurance. If you do not display the certificate of insurance or refuse to make it available to HSE inspectors when they ask, you can be fined up to £1000.

The buck stops with the Board

The directors are ultimately responsible for health and safety, and there must be a visible and active commitment from the board. Board members should consider what information they need to receive and review to enable them to monitor health and safety effectively. Ideally the issue should be a standing item at board meetings. Although prosecutions are frequently bought as a result of an accident in which someone has been hurt, a company can be liable even where no personal injury has occurred. All that the prosecution need prove is that a state of affairs existed that posed a real risk to the health and safety of employees or others.

If there is a prosecution it is likely that one or more directors will required to attend court to defend the organisation’s position.  If it can be shown that the offence has been committed with the ‘consent or connivance’ of a director, or the incident is his attributable to his neglect, he or she may face prosecution in a personal capacity as well. ‘Consent’ and ‘connivance’ requires that the defendant knew the material facts that constituted the offence by the company and agreed to conduct its business on the basis of those facts, ignorance of the law being no defence. ‘Neglect’ does not necessarily require knowledge on the defendant’s part of the material facts giving rise to the breaches, but can include the situation where he ought to have been aware of those circumstances.

Prosecutions for breach of health and safety laws are increasingly common and can result in hefty fines and adverse publicity. The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 made it easier for organisations to be held corporately accountable for deaths caused by their failures. An organisation can be guilty of a criminal offence under the Act if ‘the way in which its activities were managed or organised’ caused a person’s death, and amounted to a ‘gross breach’ of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased. Convicted organisations can receive an unlimited fine, and can be required to publicise the fact that they have been convicted. The number of prosecutions has been gathering momentum with over 18 cases since April 2008. Directors and officers insurance may provide some cover for the costs of successfully defending court proceedings, but will not cover the fine itself.

Compliance with health and safety provisions is an essential part of the Board’s duty to monitor risks. For more on the duties of directors download our FREE Guide to Directors’ Duties.

Mark Johnson is an experienced solicitor & chartered company secretary supporting businesses, charities, social enterprises & academy trusts on governance, compliance & legal affairs. Please get in touch or 01625 260577.

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The Hallmarks of Good Governance in Academy Trusts – Part 4

A series of posts examining what good governance in an academy trust looks like and how boards can create a framework to deliver their core purpose and properly discharge their duties. In part 3 we looked at Stewardship of Finance and Resources. In this final part 4 we examine..

How to get governance right from the outset

The Department of Education’s view is that effective governance requires the following key ingredients:

  • The right people with the necessary skills, time and commitment, and sufficient diversity of perspectives to ensure internal challenge, all actively contributing in line with clearly defined roles and responsibilities under an effective chair and an explicit code of conduct, and with active succession planning
  • Clear governance structures and documentation with tightly defined remits, particularly in relation to functions delegated to committees or other bodies
  • Clear separation between the strategic and operational in terms of the role of the board and the school management
  • A positive relationship between the board and its school management enabling robust constructive challenge on the basis of a good understanding of objective data, particularly on pupil progress, staff performance and finances
  • The support and advice of an independent and professional company secretary
  • Robust processes for financial and business planning and oversight and effective controls for compliance, propriety and value for money
  • Processes for regular self-evaluation, review and improvement including; skills audits, training and development plans, and independent external reviews as necessary.

“Governors and trustees are engaged and energetic non-executive leaders who are driven by their core strategic functions of setting the vision, holding the Headteacher to account or results and making sure money is well spent; they sit on boards no bigger than they have to be; are curious about what’s going on in the classroom and aren’t afraid to innovate; they focus ruthlessly on what really matters: raising standards”  – Schools Minister, Lord Nash, 2013

Ensuring continuous improvement

Achieving high standards of governance and accountability requires sustained effort and resources – it isn’t easy. With all aspects of good governance, the effectiveness ultimately depends on the skills, knowledge and behaviour of those responsible for operating the system. The board must set the desired values, ensure they are communicated, incentivise the desired behaviours, and sanction inappropriate behaviour. Academy Trust boards can benefit greatly from an external review of their governance structures and/or an independent review of their board’s effectiveness. In response to the growing need for improvements, Elderflower Legal has developed fixed price review packages which can be delivered quickly, confidentially and with the minimum of fuss to help trustees and school leaders get a picture of how they are performing and what areas of practice need to improve. You can find out more about our review packages here.

Final thoughts

One of the difficulties in embedding sound practice is a current lack of clarity about who is responsible in academy trusts for setting up the framework for sound governance and embedding good practice.  CEOs and Executive Principals may not be the best people to lead on this – they are tasked with driving the organisation forward and taking measured risks. Similarly Finance Directors and School Business Managers may be too immersed in the day to day operations and short of time to take an overview of governance. The best person to implement your system is trained governance professional, such as an ICSA-qualified chartered secretary. They have the necessary experience and rigorous qualifications beyond financial and legal aspects to make things happen and help you succeed. Chartered secretaries can work for your trust on an outsourced or employed basis, depending on your budget.

A sound system of governance isn’t a ‘nice to have’, an exercise in box-ticking compliance or even a brake on progress: it is an essential foundation stone on which the whole institution is built. Get it right and it can be enabling and empowering: get it wrong and the academy trust’s whole purpose and even its survival may be compromised.

If you have enjoyed these posts, we have compiled the series “The Hallmarks of Good Governance in Academy Trusts” into a FREE downloadable Special Report.  The report can be downloaded here.

Mark Johnson is a highly experienced independent solicitor & chartered secretary supporting academy trusts, free schools & other education providers with their governance arrangements, legal and compliance matters. He is an independent member of a MAT audit committee. He offers a cost-effective governance review GovernanceCHECK360™ for academy trusts

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The Hallmarks of Good Governance in Academy Trusts – Part 3

This series of posts examines what good governance in academy trusts looks like and how boards can create a framework to deliver their core purpose and properly discharge their duties. In Part 2, we examined the framework of governance in academy trusts. In this Part 3, we examine….

Stewardship of finance and resources

The academy trust board is responsible for the proper stewardship of trust funds, including regularity and propriety, and for ensuring economy, efficiency and effectiveness in their use. The Financial Handbook states “The board of trustees has wide discretion over its use of the trust’s funds, which it must discharge reasonably and in a way that commands broad public support”. This is hinting at the reputational risk of expenditure which could be perceived as inappropriate.

Further, the governing body has a responsibility, under the Academies Financial Handbook, to appoint an Accounting Officer, normally the headteacher or CEO, who has specific responsibilities for financial matters. This role includes a personal responsibility to Parliament, and to the Secretary of State, for the financial resources under the trust’s control.

The Accounting Officer must take personal responsibility (which must not be delegated) for assuring the board that there is compliance with the Financial Handbook and the Funding Agreement. The Accounting Officer must advise the board in writing if, at any time, in his or her opinion, any action or policy under consideration by them is incompatible with the terms of the Articles, Funding Agreement or the Financial Handbook.

Trustees have a number of legal duties that must be met in relation to accounting and financial reporting. These include:

  • keeping ‘sufficient’ accounting records to explain all transactions and show the trust’s financial position
  • preparing an annual report and statutory accounts meeting legal requirements, including the EFA’s Accounts Direction (updated annually) and the Statement of Recommended Practice (SoRP) for charity accounts.
  • considering the need for a reserves policy, managing the level of reserves held and the disclosure of any reserves policy in the Trustees’ Annual Report
  • formally approving the Trustees’ Annual Report and accounts at a minuted board meeting
  • ensuring that accounts are subjected to an external audit
  • ensuring that the Trustees’ Annual Report, accounts and annual return are filed on time with the EFA and Companies House.

Financial information should be provided at each trustee meeting which include details of the academy trust’s financial position and performance. The financial information should be sent to each trustee before each meeting and will typically include:

  • the latest management accounts
  • a comparison of budget to actual figures
  • an explanation for variances between forecasts and what actually happened
  • details of cash flow and closing bank balances

The meeting should set aside a specific time within the agenda for discuss of financial matters and allow the trustees to raise any issues of concern.

Systems of internal control

The Funding Agreement contains a range of obligations in relation to accounting and financial records. There is a general obligation to comply with the requirements of the Financial Handbook published from time to time.

The trust’s internal control framework must include arrangements for:

  • co-ordinating the planning and budgeting processes
  • applying discipline in financial management, including managing banking, debt and cash flow, with appropriate segregation of duties
  • preparation of monthly budget monitoring reports
  • ensuring that delegated financial authorities are respected
  • effective planning and oversight of any capital projects
  • the management and oversight of assets
  • the propriety and regularity of financial transactions
  • reducing the risk of fraud and theft
  • ensuring efficiency and value for money in the organisation’s activities
  • a process for independent checking of financial controls, systems, transactions and risks

Executive management and the trust’s staff are responsible for ensuring that the controls put in place by the trustees are implemented. There should be a culture of control embedded in the operations of the organisation; this culture is created by the trustees and senior management, who should lead by example in adhering to the trust’s internal financial controls and good practice.

All academy trusts are now required to include a statement about their governance arrangements in their annual report and accounts and to publish details on their website. New trusts are also required to complete an EFA online financial management and governance self-assessment within 4 months of opening. This includes questions such as:

  1. Has a named individual been designated as the accounting officer and does this person fully understand the duties and responsibilities of the role?
  2. Does the accounting officer, under the guidance of the board, ensure appropriate oversight of financial transactions by having all the trust’s property under the control of the trustees, measures in place to prevent losses or misuse; having bank accounts, financial systems and financial records operated by more than one person; keeping and maintaining full and accurate accounting records; and preparing accruals accounts, giving a true and fair view of the trust’s use of resources, in accordance with existing accounting standards?
  3. Do the board and appropriate committees meet at least three times per year and conduct business only when meetings are quorate?
  4. Does the board receive and consider information about the financial performance of the trust at least three times a year?
  5. Has a chief financial officer, with appropriate qualifications and/or experience, been appointed by the board?
  6. Has the board approved a written scheme of delegation of financial powers that maintains robust internal control arrangements?
  7. Has the board approved a balanced budget for the financial year and has the approval been minuted?
  8. Has the board been made aware of the requirement to obtain approval from EFA where it is considering borrowing funds or entering into liabilities such as leases or tenancies beyond delegated limits?
  9. Has an appropriate internal control framework been established?
  10. Has a contingency and business continuity plan been prepared?
  11. Have the risks arising from your operations been assessed?
  12. Has adequate insurance cover been obtained?
  13. Has the board been informed of the requirement to obtain approval from EFA before making any novel or contentious payments?
  14. Have all trustees completed the register of business and outside interests?
  15. Has the academy trust published on its website the relevant business and pecuniary interests of trustees and members?
  16. Are there measures in place to manage any conflicts of interest?
  17. Has the board approved a competitive tendering policy?
  18. Do senior officers’ payroll arrangements meet tax obligations fully?
  19. Has the board been informed that goods or services provided by individuals or organisations connected to the trust must be provided at ‘no more than cost’, on the basis of an open book agreement and supported by statements of assurance, in accordance with the conditions set out in the Handbook?
  20. Has a set of accounting policies been approved?
  21. Has an external auditor been appointed?
  22. Has an audit committee or a committee that fulfils the functions of an audit committee been established?
  23. Has a process for independent checking of financial controls been implemented?
  24. Has an appropriate committee agreed a programme to address the risks to financial control?
  25. Has the board been informed of the requirement to report to EFA any instances of fraud or theft: above £5,000 against the trust whether by employees, trustees or third parties; or where fraud is unusual or systematic in nature? Full details must be provided in the commentary section where any such fraud or theft has occurred.

EFA Chief Executive Peter Lauener set out further key questions which accounting officers and trustees must be able to answer on an ongoing basis in a letter dated June 2013:

  • Are you confident you are procuring all goods and services in an open and transparent way?
  • Are you ensuring that your cashflow reflects the activity at the trust and that it is properly reconciled at least monthly?
  • Do you have robust controls for payroll arrangements – particularly important in a multi-academy trust – including checks that any amounts paid out are the right amounts and paid to bona fide employees?
  • Do you have appropriate segregation of responsibility in your finance section (i.e. cross-checks and approvals)? And are you providing proper management support to your finance staff to operate in a role where they are well-placed to provide you with a “first line of defence” in terms up upholding propriety, regularity and value for money in the use of public funds?
  • Are you making sure conflicts of interest are avoided and that you are keeping registers of interest up to date?
  • Are you confident senior staff and trustees are not gaining any private or personal commercial or financial benefit as a result of their position, other of course than under their contract of employment?
  • Are you sure that your academy trust is not being exploited for personal/private benefit and that any fees for consultancy work are where appropriate being properly accrued to the academy trust rather than to individuals?
  • Do you have robust procedures for the recording, documenting, evidencing and monitoring of information and especially the reasons for entering into major spending commitments?
  • Do you have properly constituted arrangements for internal audit to give you and trustees a further safeguard that everything is in order?

Combating Fraud

To reduce the risk of fraud, academy trusts are recommended to consider the following actions:

  • ensure anti-fraud and whistleblowing policies are in place and regularly update these and communicate them to staff
  • conduct regular anti-fraud awareness training events for finance staff
  • highlight to staff that they can also contact theEFA with any concerns of possible irregularity or fraud (the EFA publishes financial management and governance reviews on its website)
  • management communications to pursue identified incidents of fraud
  • ensure financial controls are regularly assessed and are well designed and implemented
  • ensure that there is appropriate segregation of duties in your controls
  • review your processes for references and background checks on new employees
  • scrutinise significant business transactions and personal relationships to avoid possible conflicts of interest
  • install a physical security system to protect the trust’s assets

The most common abuses identified by auditors were set out in a National Audit Office report of 2015:

  • misuse of funds by headteachers using academy funds for personal gain
  • inappropriate expense claims for both staff and trustees and unjustified salary increases
  • transactions in breach of the Academies Financial Handbook and not in line with Parliamentary intentions
  • poor oversight of activities of individual schools in a group, or weak controls at the trust level
  • weaknesses in procurement (that is, non-compliance with EU procurement rules, and employment or contracting with related parties, or both)
  • Related-party transactions (that is, whether they have been entered into on an arms-length basis and are in line with the new ‘at cost’ requirement.

The EFA publishes regular reports of investigations it has carried out into financial mismanagement and governance issues on its website.

Next time – How to get your governance right from the outset.

Mark Johnson is a highly experienced independent solicitor & chartered secretary supporting academy trusts, free schools & other education providers with their governance arrangements, legal and compliance matters. He is an independent member of a MAT audit committee. He offers a cost-effective governance review GovernanceCHECK360™ for academy trusts

If you would like to be kept up to date on more topics like this, then why not sign up to receive our regular newsletter.

The Hallmarks of Good Governance in Academy Trusts

This series of posts examines what effective governance in academy trusts looks like and how boards can create a framework to deliver their core purpose and properly discharge their duties.

With the demise in the role and capacity of local education authorities, England’s state education system is moving inexorably moves towards a school-led system with a diverse landscape of structures, partnerships and institutions entrusted with delivering statutory education with public funds. The need for robust governance and accountability has never been greater. At the same time, schools are subject to so many regulations and reporting requirements, it can be difficult to see the wood for the trees. The spotlight from Government and regulators on sound governance in the education sector has never been stronger. However, trustees face a daunting task in assembling a picture of all the requirements: so in this series of posts we aim to provide a route map, explain and demystify.

What is governance and why is it important?

A system of governance is all about the way organisations are directed, controlled and held accountable to deliver their core purpose over the long-term. The organisation’s structure, practices and procedures should all be organised so that the organisation achieves its core purpose, mission and goals, whilst complying with the law and sound ethical practice.

A sound governance framework will:

  • Set out the shared purpose, vision and values of the trust
  • Enable the trust to develop an agreed strategy to implement the purpose
  • Ensure oversight and monitoring of the organisation’s performance along the way
  • Ensure the organisation remains accountable for delivering its mission.

Positive benefits of good governance in academy trusts include:

  • People will trust and respect the organisation (including pupils, parents, funders, regulators, suppliers and the wider community)
  • The organisation will know where it is going
  • The board will be fully connected with management, the academy’s operations and wider stakeholders
  • Good and timely decisions will be made
  • The board will be better able to identify and manage risks
  • The organisation will avoid mistakes and have greater resilience to cope with problems
  • The organisation should enjoy improved financial stability

Where governance is strong, standards of attainment are likely to be higher because pupils are known and supported to be their best, the quality of teaching is a constant focus of attention, and the leadership of the academy is held to account for the performance and wellbeing of the children.” – Collaborative Academies Trust, 2014.

The pivotal role of the Board

The academy trust’s board is at the epicentre of the system of governance. They must set out the academy’s vision (what the school will look like in 3-5 years time) its values, the shared moral purpose that should run through all the academy’s actions. In most cases, this will be about improving children’s lives through excellent teaching and learning and preparing young people for the challenges of later life.

The model Articles for an academy trust (the main governing document) usually contain an anodyne statement that its object is “to advance for the public benefit education in the United Kingdom…by establishing, maintaining, carrying on, managing and developing a school offering a broad and balanced curriculum.” It therefore falls to the Board to put the flesh on the bones of this and stamp their particular vision and ethos on the trust.

The Department of Education’s view (Governance Handbook, 2015) is that the Board has three core functions:

  1. To ensure clarity of vision, ethos, strategic direction and structure
  2. Hold the Headteacher to account for the educational performance of the school and its pupils and the performance management of its staff;
  3. Oversee the financial performance of the school(s) and make sure money is well spent.

Those are certainly three key strands to the Board’s work, but there is a lot more besides! One of the key challenges for members of an academy trust board is to think and act strategically. The Board should continually review and evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and consider how best to play to the organisation’s strengths, or bolster the required competencies. Board members are not there to provide operational oversight or ‘second guess’ the executive managers. Nor are they there to represent or advocate for a particular constituency or interest group. The primary consideration must always be what is best for the pupils. The changing landscape and inc