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The Health and Safety Executive understand the importance of effective auditing of H&S systems, yet many organisations fail to implement a robust auditing process.

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Corporate Manslaughter - six years on - what can we learn ?



It’s now just over 6 years since the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 came into force. Over this period there have been over 1000 work related deaths in the UK, yet to date, there has only been nine corporate manslaughter cases brought before the Courts. In all but two of the cases, the Company was found guilty with fines ranging from £8,000 - £460,000. The Sentencing Council Guidelines suggest that fines should start at £500,000 !
In the two cases that were successfully defended (MNS Mining - the Gleision mining disaster in 2011 and PS & JE Ward Ltd – a family run horticultural nursery business in Norfolk - 2010) we have not really learnt a great deal about exactly what the Courts and prosecutors expect those at a ‘senior level’ to have done/not done with regards health and safety at work.
What is clear though is that in the MNS Mining case, the prosecutors failed to also issue H&S charges under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, which meant that when the manslaughter charges were dismissed, there was no other alternative for a conviction. In effect, in a case where four miners died at work, there has no been convictions for any H&S failures.
However, with PS & JE Ward, although the manslaughter charges were dismissed, the company was found guilty of breaching H&S requirements under HASAW.
The current message is therefore clear : following a fatal accident an organisation is likely to face multiple charges both for corporate manslaughter and for the more general failures of not ensuring the health, safety and welfare of employees/third parties under H&S legislation. Double jeopardy, double the chance of success, double the cost …..
It is also likely that where corporate manslaughter is alleged against the company, its senior managers will continue to face personal charges of consent, connivance or neglect.
More manslaughter cases are in the pipeline, so watch this space for further news.

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