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March 25, 2010

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IOSH 10 – The impact of the Corporate Manslaughter Act

The biggest impact of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act has been the potential of more prosecutions of companies and individuals under other health and safety legislation, as a result of more Police investigations of a suspected breach of the Act.

This is according to Kevin Bridges, a solicitor at law firm Pinsent Masons, who yesterday gave IOSH 10 delegates an insight into how the Act had influenced the behaviour of organisations since it came into force two years ago.

Kevin reminded visitors that an organisation is guilty of an offence under the Act if the way in which its activities are managed, or organised: causes a person’s death; amounts to a gross breach of the relevant duty of care owed to the victim; and senior management’s role in how the organisation’s activities are managed is deemed to be a significant element in the breach.

He also underlined that the Act had introduced no new duties of care, in respect of health and safety, that didn’t already exist. However, he argued that the legislation had acted as “a cataylst for organisations to move away from systems compliance and technical safety and towards behavioural safety and influencing attitudes [among employees]”.

He pointed out that evidence of whether a gross breach had been committed would involve investigation of how far an organisation had complied with health and safety legislation, and the nature of its safety culture, attitude and behaviour to managing the risks.

Because safety culture has to be driven from the top, explained Kevin, senior management must engage with their organisation’s health and safety management system. The recent guidelines on sentencing for corporate manslaughter offences, issued in February, made clear that the courts should look at how far up the organisation the breach went, when deciding the seriousness of the offence and the size of the penalty.

Highlighting how the Act had reinforced the need for effective leadership, he warned delegates that organisations must not become complacent about health and safety performance, and pointed to the dangers of cost-cutting in a recession. During times of organisational change, it is important, for example, to keep a close eye on contractors, who might ‘import’ risk into the business and lower the standard of compliance in the organisation.

Said Kevin: “Cost-cutting at the expense of safety is a serious aggravating factor in terms of sentencing.”

He concluded the while there has not been a step increase in the number of prosecutions for an offence of corporate manslaughter – the first case under the Act having been adjourned until October – as a consequence of more investigations, there is now a greater chance of more prosecutions of senior managers and employees under the HSWA.


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