Gross Negligence Manslaughter

09 July 2019

As an employer, you have a legal duty of care for your employees’ safety during work. Sometimes it’s manageable, and sometimes it can go horribly wrong.

There are numerous acts within UK law to help avoid such circumstances. But it's important to remember that gross negligence is a crime. If your actions lead to an employee losing their life, you could face criminal charges of negligence.

In this guide, we'll discuss what gross negligence slaughter is, how it's proven, and what your responsibilities are for employee safety.

What is gross negligence manslaughter?

Gross negligence manslaughter is a form of involuntary manslaughter. It’s a crime which is caused by a competent person committing an unlawful act.

Under criminal law, gross negligence is defined as:

'A conscious and voluntary disregard of the need to use reasonable care, which is likely to cause foreseeable grave injury or harm’.

Although there was no intention to cause harm, the grossly negligent actions (which led to the incident) are often completely avoidable. Here, a small change would have made all the difference.

As an employer, it's crucial to understand what actions can class as grossly negligent–leading to the question of life or death.

Examples of gross negligence manslaughter at work

Gross negligence in the workplace can take many forms. For example:

  • An injury caused by operating dangerous machinery.
  • A breach of safety rules caused by a lack of personal protective equipment.
  • A lack of correct safety measures for which causes a fall from work ladders.
  • Being hit by a moving work vehicle.

To ensure the safety of all your employees, it's important you realise the responsibilities you have towards their care.

UK laws on gross negligence manslaughter

All UK employers have a legal duty of care towards their employees. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 ensures workplace safety for employees, as well as non-employees on the premises.

The act provides guidelines on providing information, training, and supervision for workplace safety. Other acts in place to protect employees include:

  • The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.
  • The Display Screen Equipment (DSE) Regulations 2002.
  • The Management of Health and Safety Regulations 1999.
  • The Reporting of Injuries, Disease and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013.

Your duty of care includes eliminating the risk of gross negligence manslaughter. Failure to do so can lead to a fatal injury, and even death.

But it's important you're aware of all the circumstances which can lead to a gross negligence manslaughter claim being proven.

What are the consequences of gross negligence manslaughter?

Under UK criminal law, if the defendant (employer) is found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter, there's a required criminal sanction in place.

Never underestimate the severity of gross negligence manslaughter. Or the circumstances which lead to a conviction.

In 2018, sentencing guidelines were created for gross negligence manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter crimes in the UK.

Sentencing guidelines for gross manslaughter

If an employer has caused death through gross negligence manslaughter, they could face a life imprisonment sentence.

Sentences can range between one to 18 years. So, it's vital to keep every person on site as safe as possible. If your actions lead to injury or a risk of death, you could find yourself facing judicial trial.

You must always commit to employee safety during work. No one should be a victim because of their employer's negligence.

How is gross negligence manslaughter claim proven?

For gross negligence manslaughter to be legally proven, there are stages which must be passed first. For example:

  • The defendant owed a duty of care to the employee.
  • The defendant negligently breached the duty of care.
  • The defendant's negligence must have been the main cause or substantial cause of the employee's death.
  • The actions of the defendant must be classed as gross negligence and considered to be a crime upon further investigation.

In a gross negligence manslaughter claim, the circumstances of the individual offence are taken into consideration by the judge.

Let's delve deeper into the relevant factors that must be met in order to secure a conviction for gross negligence manslaughter.

Duty of care

All employers have a duty of care towards their employees when they're at work. This includes:

  • Providing a safe place to work.
  • Issuing safety equipment and materials.
  • Ensuring safety standards are regulated.

These legal obligations must be carried out by a reasonable person who’s received proper health and safety training.

Breach of duty

Employers who fail to provide safety and protect may breach their legal duty. In a court setting, the prosecution will argue the defendant (employer) owed an existing duty of care to the victim.

Common examples of breach of duty in the workplace include a lack of:

  • Adequate supervision during potentially unsafe tasks.
  • Appropriate safety measures in place.
  • Protective clothing and equipment.
  • Proper risk assessments being in place.


To establish a prosecution case and prove gross negligence, the cause for the breach of duty must be proven.

The breach doesn't have to be the only cause. But it must have minimally, trivially or negligibly caused the death.

For a conviction to be awarded, it must be proven the breach of duty was exceptionally bad. If the prosecution can't justify this in court, the gross negligence manslaughter case will be unsuccessful.

The prosecution may use the knowledge of healthcare professionals in order to prove this part of the claim.

Grossness of the breach

This part of the claim is possibly the most difficult to be prove in court. The prosecution will supply expert evidence to argue the breach was unacceptable–therefore there is no doubt the employer was at fault for the death.

It must be proven the employer committed an unlawful act and that the general principles of workplace safety were broken. In essence, the act of the employer must have been criminal in an expert's opinion.

The jury will then decide if the employer is guilty of causing the death of another person via gross negligence.

Serious and obvious risk to death

For a gross negligence manslaughter claim to be successful, the prosecution must be able to prove the defendant's actions created an obvious risk of death.

Evidence of this can be not making any attempt to keep their staff safe. Or not having a process for carrying out risk assessments.

It must be proven that at the time of the breach, the employer caused a risk of death to an employee.

If you're accused of gross negligence manslaughter, it's vitally important you understand the potential punishment you could face if convicted.

Get advice on gross negligence manslaughter from Peninsula

All employers have a duty of care to provide a safe workplace. You must do everything you can to avoid any fatal injuries and deaths in your company.

If your actions or subjective recklessness leads to an employee losing their life, this is gross negligence manslaughter. Negligence of any sort is a criminal offence. And you could face a heavy sentence if found guilty.

Peninsula offers expert advice on gross negligence manslaughter in the workplace. We have an unlimited 24/7 HR advice line which is available 365 days a year.

Contact us on 0800 029 4376 and book a free consultation with one of our Health & Safety consultants.

** All our solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

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