Indemnity for heads of departments and those undertaking departmental safety duties

1.  Introduction

Staff in a departmental safety role and heads of departments who have responsibility for safety sometimes express concern about their potential personal liability in the event that legal action on a health and safety issue is taken against the University. This policy clarifies the extent to which individual members of staff are indemnified by the University in respect of the costs of criminal prosecution or civil litigation arising from actions taken by them in the undertaking of their departmental safety duties.

2.  Departmental safety duties

The term "those undertaking departmental safety duties" includes departmental safety officers, area safety officers, biological safety officers, senior radiation protection supervisors, radiation protection supervisors, first aiders, and all other departmental staff regardless of their specific titles, who are undertaking safety advisory duties with the written authority of the head of department (e.g. they are named in a departmental statement of safety organisation). It also includes senior radiation protection supervisors and radiation protection supervisors in the performance of their supervisory duties.

3.  Insurance and criminal liability

Insurance cover operates for those acts or omissions for which there is a liability at law. Failure to comply with the provisions of health and safety legislation may also be a criminal offence and it is not possible to insure against any fine that may be imposed. However, the University has undertaken to meet the reasonable costs of defence in the event that individuals are subject to criminal proceedings arising out of the performance of safety duties carried out in the course of their employment.

4.  Insurance and civil liability

The University insures against civil damages and the associated legal costs arising from those acts or omissions for which it is found to be legally liable. This includes the following

(a)  employers' liability insurance, which operates in respect of death or injury to University employees and which fulfils the requirements of the Employers' Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969

(b)  public liability/products liability insurance, which operates in respect of death or injury to those who are not employees of the University, and loss of or damage to their property

(c)  professional indemnity insurance, which operates (amongst other things) for claims that are made against the University arising from a breach of professional duty.

5.  Individual liability

In the case of health and safety (criminal) offences, prosecutions would normally be taken against the employer, but in the following circumstances individuals might also be at risk of prosecution.

(a)  Employees may have individual liability in cases

(i)  where they have not taken reasonable care for their own safety and the safety of others who may be affected by their acts or omissions

(ii)  where they have recklessly interfered with any equipment or measures provided by their employer for health and safety

(iii)  where they have not co-operated with the employer in respect of any measures provided for health and safety

(iv)  that arise from failure to notify the employer of any situation that gives risk to serious and immediate danger, and of any shortfalls in health and safety arrangements, even if there is no serious and imminent risk.

(b)  Where an employer has been found to have committed a health and safety offence, a senior person in the management structure may also be found individually liable if the offence was due to the acts or omissions of that individual.

In the case of civil claims for negligence, employers would normally be considered vicariously liable for actions that are properly carried out by its employees. University staff will be covered by the University’s insurances if they were carrying out actions that result in a civil claim in the proper course of their employment.

6.  Statement of indemnity

Council has considered the matters set out above and has issued the following statement.

 "In consideration of your undertaking departmental safety duties, the University hereby indemnifies you from and against all losses, costs, charges and expenses you may suffer as a result of claims made against you under civil law for loss of or damage to property, personal injury or death which shall legally arise from the exercise, in good faith, of your duties. In the unlikely event that any criminal charges are brought against you in connection with your departmental safety duties, the University undertakes to meet the reasonable costs of your defence. The indemnity described above is extended to heads of departments in respect of their safety duties."

7.  Departmental action

Heads of departments are asked to provide a copy of this University Policy Statement to all relevant staff in their department.


March 2010