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Directors warned as corporate killing law implemented

Directors and senior managers will find themselves under increasing scrutiny if work-related deaths happen as a result of gross corporate failures, RoSPA said ahead of next week's implementation of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act.

The Act, which comes into force on Sunday (April 6), makes it clear that the full weight of criminal law will be brought to bear on organisations in which standards have fallen far below what could have been reasonably expected.

Although individuals will not be liable under the new law, prosecutions for corporate manslaughter (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland) and corporate homicide (in Scotland) will look into management systems and practices across the organisation in question. The behaviour of those in senior positions will be scrutinised and a substantial part of the health and safety failure must have been at a senior level. Individual directors and senior managers are also coming under greater scrutiny in investigations carried out under existing health and safety laws.

Roger Bibbings, RoSPA's Occupational Safety Adviser, said: “If anyone dies as a result of gross corporate failings, directors who do not take safety seriously enough will find themselves in the firing line. Those organisations that have not assured themselves that they have proper corporate governance of safety in place need to take action.

“Although the Government has said that corporate manslaughter prosecutions will be reserved for the very worst cases only, just how serious corporate offending will have to be is yet to be determined.

“While directors themselves will not be prosecuted for the new offence, it is highly likely that there will be parallel action against both companies and their directors and senior managers under health and safety legislation.”

RoSPA was among the organisations that campaigned for a revision to corporate manslaughter law, in particular to address the imbalance between successful prosecutions of small firms for the crime of manslaughter and faltering prosecutions of large firms.

An organisation found guilty of the new offence will be liable to an unlimited fine, possibly up to 10 per cent of annual turnover averaged over the previous three years. A publicity order could be imposed and a court may also, through a remedial order, require an organisation to take steps to address the failures behind the death.

Roger Bibbings said: “The potential knock-on effects of a conviction are huge, including severe damage to the reputation of the organisation in question, resulting in a loss of business and plummeting share prices.

“But the new law should not be used as an excuse for banning things or becoming totally risk averse. It should, however, help to focus the attention of those organisations that still have a semi-detached view of safety.

“RoSPA is continuing to offer briefings and consultancy services to organisations with a particular emphasis on how directors and senior managers can exercise strong personal leadership and build the kind of safety culture that will help them save lives, reduce injuries and, from a business point of view, avoid the costly repercussions of accidents.”

See www.rospa.com/directors/ for information on RoSPA's services for directors, and www.rospa.com/developingleadership/ for details of RoSPA's Developing Leadership Action conference on May 13.

RoSPA's mission is to save lives and reduce injuries.

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