Leading backbenchers vote for measure that could oblige companies to appoint ‘safety directors’.

Several Labour backbench MPs, including former cabinet ministers, have backed a private member’s bill to hold directors accountable for workplace accidents.

Nick Brown, Frank Dobson and Michael Meacher are among those backing MP Stephen Hepburn’s Health and Safety (Directors’ Duties) Bill, which had its first reading this week. The measure, which is supported by unions UCATT and T&G, would place health and safety duties on directors.

The bill was also backed by Tony Baldry, the construction minister during the last Tory government.

It would give the Health and Safety Commission powers to issue a code of practice in which a large company would be required to appoint a health and safety director with responsibility for site safety.

Bob Blackman, T&G senior official, said this would make corporate manslaughter legislation a workable proposition. If the directors’ bill came into force, it would make clear which individuals could be punished if a company were found guilty of health and safety breaches.

The industry needs a greater deterrent to improve safety

UCATT leader Alan Ritchie

Alan Ritchie, UCATT general secretary, said the bill was necessary to cut the number of deaths in the industry. He said: “Something has to be done to halt the site carnage.”

Ritchie said legislation would help to create a level playing field over manslaughter offences. He said: “At present there is no consistency in law. Companies are fined an average of £7000 for site deaths but a drink-driver who kills someone can be punished with a custodial sentence. The industry needs a greater deterrent.”

However, the Construction Confederation has warned that appointing a single safety director could create a scapegoat culture.

Andy Sneddon, CC safety director, said government should be wary of custodial sentences. He said: “They’re appropriate where gross negligence can be established. But to advocate reducing the burden of proof to ensure more managers end up in jail has less to do with justice and more to do with prejudice.”