October 7th, 2014
In 2002, an employee of Produce Connection was killed when the truck he was driving drifted into the path of an oncoming lorry. Thought to have been suffering from chronic fatigue, the deceased had fallen asleep at the wheel.
The timing of the event was significant because it pre-dated the 2007 Corporate Manslaughter Act, brought into being to make companies and individuals more accountable for fatalities stemming from negligent practice in the work place.
Following the death, Produce Connection was prosecuted under the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992 and was fined £30,000 with £24,000 costs.
Edward Handley, a former TRL (Transport Research Laboratory) consultant and owner of Work Related Road Safety Solutions (WRRSS) has pointed out that, had the incident occurred today, a prosecution could have used the Corporate Manslaughter Act to claim “the company had been negligent if it did not monitor and control its workers’ working hours”.
Fast-forward to February of this year when a poorly maintained street-sweeping vehicle caused the death of its operative. The director of Mobile Sweepers, Mervyn Owens, was fined £183,000 and the company pleaded guilty to a charge under Section 1 of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act.
Even more damaging, the Reading firm was subjected to a ‘publicity order’; Judge Guy Boney ordered that the firm publish details of its conviction in two local newspapers.
Speaking in February 2010, the then Justice Minister, Maria Eagle, said: “Forcing companies … to publicise their conviction [is] a powerful deterrent, making them think of the reputational as well as financial risk of not taking their health and safety responsibilities seriously.”
Whereas the £12,000 fine incurred by Mobile Sweepers reflected the size of the company, businesses convicted of corporate manslaughter can be fined millions of pounds, with “a £500,000 minimum” according to Michael Herman, reporting for Times Online in February 2010. The Sentencing Guidelines Council (SGC), which sets sentencing bands for criminal offences, said fines “may be millions of pounds and should seldom be below £500,000.”
The legal landscape has changed dramatically, forcing firms to re-think their approach to health and safety according to the potentially devastating new implications of being found guilty of breaches.
Now, every offence has to be legally tested and the prosecution have to prove a firm’s liability for corporate manslaughter. This test makes the following checks:
-The accused had a duty of care to the deceased
-That duty of care was breached.
-The breach caused death and constituted a crime of gross negligence.
-The accused is a ‘controlling mind or will’ of the company.
Under the new law, courts must look at management systems and practices across the organisation, providing a more efficient and effective way of prosecuting corporate failures to manage health and safety properly.
Positive steps you can take
While it can often be difficult to prove where responsibility lies within larger companies, it is easier to identify a ‘controlling mind’ within a smaller firm, indicating that SMEs are more susceptible to prosecution under corporate manslaughter law.
Clear to all is the need a whole-scale review of your health and safety procedures and an assessment of risks and risk management in your organisation. Your managers represent the controlling mind of your organisation and play a decisive role in how activities are organised and executed.
Ideally you will have a health and safety manager who will be able to draw a clear, auditable line throughout the company to show how health and safety policy is implemented, reported and how personnel are accountable at every stage of the HS chain.
On a practical level, all managers should be trying to upgrade through completion of courses including health and safety in the workplace, first aid, and fire marshal.
Alongside the threat of up to two years in prison for individual directors, managers or employees for breaches in health and safety, organisations must recognise and embrace a water-tight culture towards health and safety for the strategic - let alone ethical - strength of the company.
Ultimately, responsibility needs to filter down through every company so that all staff hold health and safety in the esteem it demands; failure to do so is a disaster waiting to happen whose repercussions could shatter a company, costing jobs, careers, to say nothing of lives of the victims involved.
If you as business leaders fail to properly resource health and safety and something does go wrong then it will not just be the victim(S) that suffers, but the entire business.
Dangerous, Costly and Crippling:
Shrugging off the possibility of such a case with an ‘it won’t happen to me’ attitude is dangerous, costly and potentially crippling to businesses and individual managers alike.
Let Us Help You:
Take an hour and a half out of your day on November 18th and let us help you to safeguard yourself and your business.
- 8.30am-10.00 am – 18th November - The Millennium Centre –
Through simulated examples performed by actors and industry experts, this free workshop is not one to be missed! Attendees will leave armed with critical information and real life practical examples on how to avoid breaching the Corporate Manslaughter Act.
We are proud to present this seminar in partnership with Risk Management Specialists, Thomas Carroll and Human Resourcing.
Limited Availability, Book Today!
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