Corporate Manslaughter A Health & Safety wake-up call

A Health & Safety wake-up call by James Bullock, Partner, Irwin Mitchell Corporate Team for the Sheffield Star

23.07.2008

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 became law on the 6th April 2008 and should act as a wake-up call to all companies and partnerships to get their 'health and safety' houses in order.

In the past, if a company was to be convicted of manslaughter, it was necessary to prove that an individual at its very top was guilty of manslaughter and this made convictions very difficult to achieve.

Now, organisations will be guilty of corporate manslaughter if the way their senior management organise or manage their activities causes a person's death and this amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care to the deceased. A collective failure by senior management to take adequate measures to protect employees may be enough.

Senior management are people who have significant roles managing or organising the business or making decisions about how to do so. This catches not only those with senior operational roles but also those with "HQ" functions, including central compliance, financial or strategic roles.

If a fatal incident occurs, an organisation's conduct is likely to be closely examined. On conviction the court can impose unlimited fines as well as ordering remedial action and that convictions be publicised. An organisation's reputation can be devastated.

Companies and partnerships should therefore:-

  • Review the scope and adequacy of their current Health & Safety policies, systems and plans and assess compliance. In some cases an independent audit may be merited.
  • Ensure that they meet the standards laid down in guidance issued by the Institute of Directors and the Health and Safety Commission (read this at http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg417.pdf). That they provide strong and effective leadership from the top, involve employees in Health & Safety issues and assess and regularly review risk areas.
  • Review their liability insurance to check what is covered.