WHEN the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 was finally implemented, many company directors may have breathed a sigh of relief.
Despite calls for corporate accountability at board level, the Act was designed to prosecute organisations and not individual directors. Although companies could be fined and have publicity orders imposed on them, individual directors could not be sent to prison.
The first corporate manslaughter case is currently going through the courts, but has been delayed until October, 2010, due to the ill health of the company’s managing director. The case involves the death of a worker, who was killed when an excavation he was working in collapsed.
What may have been missed with this focus on corporate manslaughter is that the managing director is charged with manslaughter by gross negligence and also a health and safety offence in his own personal capacity. He faces possible imprisonment or substantial fines should he be convicted.
Company directors need to be aware of their potential individual liabilities should accidents occur as a consequence of their decisions or negligence. Decisions regarding expenditure on health and safety training, maintenance and repair of equipment and actions to support a good health and safety culture within an organisation should all be carefully considered. A lack of knowledge or lack of awareness of health and safety legislation cannot be used as a defence.
The current Government are still uncertain about the merits of imposing positive statutory duties on directors to ensure good health and safety management. Opponents to further legislation claim there is guidance available for directors on health and safety management and – as we can see in the case above – existing legislation is already in place for directors to be prosecuted. The government is likely to consider both legislative and non-legislative options in the future.
As prosecutions under the CMCHA and other health and safety legislation can have severe consequences for organisations as a whole – and for directors at a personal level – health and safety management should appear as a regular agenda item at board level meetings.
Wilby Risk Management recommend that companies appoint a named director with health and safety responsibilities to champion a positive health and safety culture and protect the employees and directors alike. Where a company lacks sufficient competence in house, assistance should be sought from trade bodies, consultants or similar organisations.