Corporate Manslaughter: What does this mean for you?
Companies and other organisations may face criminal prosecution for manslaughter from 6 April 2008, when the main provisions of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 come into force. The introduction of the 2007 Act reinforces the need for organisations to ensure they are taking appropriate action to reduce the risk of health and safety incidents.
While the 2007 Act is concerned with the liability of organisations rather than individuals, the government expects it to help to focus the minds of senior managers on the importance of effective health and safety leadership.
The new offence
The 2007 Act introduces a new offence of corporate manslaughter. The new offence can apply to companies, certain specified public bodies, police forces, and any partnerships, trade unions or employers’ associations that are employers.
Relevant organisations will be guilty of the new offence if the way in which their activities are managed or organised causes a person’s death and amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed to the deceased.
In addition, the role played by senior management must be a “substantial element” in the breach of duty.
Senior management includes those who play “significant roles in the making of decisions about how a substantial part of an organisation’s activities are to be managed or organised”. What amounts to a substantial part of an organisation’s activities will vary, but might include, for example, management decisions at a regional level within a national organisation, or responsibility for overall management of particular divisions of an organisation’s operations.
Significantly, the new offence is concerned with the liability of the organisation itself, and is not directed at individual directors, senior managers or others. However, it will still be possible to prosecute individuals for the common law offence of gross negligence manslaughter and for health and safety offences.
The new offence is punishable by way of an unlimited fine. The 2007 Act also makes provision for the courts to require convicted organisations to publicise details of convictions.
What you should do now
Some key practical steps you can take now are to:
- Ensure that health and safety leadership within your organisation meets the standards set out in the guidance issued by the Institute of Directors and the Health and Safety Commission.
- Consider how successful safety management systems have been to date, and whether improvements can be made.
- Consider carrying out an independent audit of health and safety management systems and health and safety compliance.
- Develop an incident response plan. Be prepared to initiate an immediate internal investigation following an incident, and to ensure that documentary and physical evidence is preserved.
- Review your organisation’s liability insurance to check that recoverable legal costs incurred under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 would be covered.
- Consider ways to strengthen the health and safety culture within the organisation, so that everyone takes responsibility for improving health and safety.
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