Corporate Manslaughter: What You Need To Know by Tony Trenear, Health & Safety Technical Manager

Peninsula Team

October 21 2009

With all the publicity that surrounded the introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act in 2007 and, more recently, when the first case against Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings Ltd. came before the courts, it is hardly surprising that directors and senior managers continue to be concerned about their potential liability. Many wrongly believe that the offence is targeted at individual directors and managers. It is not. The offence can only be committed by an organisation; it places no liability on individuals.

Personal responsibility and liability has been a feature of the Health and Safety At Work Act since it was introduced in 1974 and it can apply at any time. Recent trends in Health and Safety Prosecutions show that the authorities are keener than ever to hold directors and managers accountable for breaches of the legal requirements. For example, earlier this month Philip Thompson, operations director and director with responsibility for health and safety at Butcher’s Pet Care Ltd, was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £4,000 costs after being prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive. The case at Northampton Crown Court followed a fatal accident in which an employee was crushed by an automatic palletising machine.

The prosecution alleged that the events leading to this accident were “far from being an isolated incident.†After the case an HSE spokesman said “This tragic loss of life could have been so easily avoided had Mr Thompson properly fulfilled his duties as a director.†This case “should serve as a stark warning to company directors to take their responsibilities for health and safety seriously and to reinforce the message that they cannot hide behind the organisation.â€

Directors and senior managers need to remember that they can be personally liable if an offence by their company can be shown to have occurred as a result of them consenting to it, conniving in it or if they were neglectful. In the event of a fatal accident they can also be charged with the common law offence of Gross Negligence Manslaughter if it can be shown that their negligent actions or inactions were a direct cause and they can face a term of imprisonment.

To avoid liability directors and senior managers must be involved in the active management of health and safety. If you are a client of Peninsula make routine use of your Safety Management System. Carry out and record risk assessments using our Guidance Notes to identify whether you need additional controls. If you are unsure about anything call your consultant for advice or ring our 24 Hour Advice Service on 0844 892 2785 for further information and guidance.

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