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Lawyer Says ‘Clarity Needed’ Over Corporate Manslaughter Act

Experts Highlight Concerns Over Effectiveness of Legislation


By Rob Dixon

Corporate manslaughter legislation introduced five years ago should be reviewed to ensure it is proving effective alongside other safety regulations in holding companies to account, according to legal experts.

Specialist workplace injury lawyers at Irwin Mitchell representing the families of people who have died as a result of accidents at work and in public places have also called for clearer guidance to be issued regarding how corporate manslaughter cases work alongside prosecutions by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

The call comes as the legislation is in the spotlight due to several high-profile cases, including charges brought against a Middlesex water sports centre over the death of an 11-year-old girl.

David Urpeth, national head of workplace injury at Irwin Mitchell, said some commentators believe the scope of the legislation has never met expectations in terms of how organisations and senior management are held to account.

He explained: “The Corporate Manslaughter Act came into force in April 2008, yet we have only seen three companies convicted in the past two years. Because of this, any case related to it is always carefully observed by lawyers and health and safety experts alike.

“While it could be seen as welcome that only three cases have warranted that level of action, the figure seems comparatively low when HSE statistics show there were 173 deaths at work in 2011/12 alone.

“Further research by Stirling University has also shown that more than half of workplace deaths between April 2011 and October 2012 occurred in sectors excluded from unannounced inspections, the threat of which is often vital to ensuring businesses are focused on meeting their responsibilities on a day-to-day basis.

“We would urge the Government and other authorities to provide more clarity in relation to all of the legislation and regulations in this area, including the interplay between prosecutions brought by the HSE differ and prosecutions under the  Corporate Manslaughter Act.

“A greater understanding is needed as to why prosecutions are brought in some cases and not others.”

David went on to outline some of the concerns he holds at present in relation to the present nature of the Corporate Manslaughter Act.

He explained:  “While the Act’s ability to attach liability to companies is positive, we have had concerns since before the legislation came into force about the fact that individual directors cannot be held personally liable under it.

“Given the huge amount of work related deaths and injuries that we deal with on a day-to-day basis, we have always felt that personal liability would be a clear warning that directors need to fully understand the importance of health and safety, which in turn will ensure the welfare of workers and the general public is at the very top of their companies’ agendas.

“This would not be about increasing any burden on business, but about ensuring that comprehensive and proportionate standards are in place which will ensure workers are kept safe.”

Representatives from Prince’s Sporting Club in Bedfont are to be charged with corporate manslaughter and an offence under Section 3 of the Health and Safety At Work Act 1974 in relation to the death of Mari-Simon Cronje, who was struck by a speedboat after falling from a banana boat at the centre in September 2010.

The director of the club, Glen Walker, is also to be charged under Section 37 of the Health and Safety At Work Act 1974 in relation to the incident.

Both Mr Walker and other representatives are due to appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on February 19th.

Read more about Irwin Mitchell’s expertise related to Accidents At Work