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May 21, 2010

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Act’s first two years take safety to the heart of corporate world

Although he couldn’t talk about his involvement in the first-ever case brought in the first two years under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act (it had been adjourned from February to October this year) lawyer Kevin Bridges gave an insightful view of the Act’s potential contribution to improving health and safety.

Kevin, a partner at law firm Pinsent Masons and chair of the IOSH Bristol & West branch, claimed that more companies and individuals would be likely to be prosecuted under health and safety legislation because of more police investigations being made into suspected breaches of the Act.

An organisation is guilty of an offence under the Act if the way in which its activities are managed and organised:

  • causes a person’s death;
  • amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed to the deceased;
  • sees senior management’s role judged to be a substantial element in the breach.

Sentencing guidelines introduced in February stated that fines would be seldom less than £500,000 and may be measured in terms of millions of pounds. Convicted organisations may also be subject to Publicity Orders and Remedial Orders.

While reminding the audience that all sizes of organisation were covered under the Act, and despite only one incomplete prosecution in two years, Kevin saw the corporate manslaughter legislation taking health and safety right to the heart of the corporate world, demanding effective leadership, robust systems for managing risk, increased exposure for directors and senior managers to the possibility of personal liability, and more pressure to guard against complacency.

He also saw the economic recession becoming a greater threat to any businesses tempted to cut corners at the expense of health and safety – “a serious aggravating factor in terms of sentencing.”

Kevin maintained that while there has not been a sudden increase in the number of prosecutions for offences of corporate manslaughter, more investigations would increase the chances of more prosecutions of senior managers and employees under health and safety legislation.

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