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RoSPA Says Corporate Manslaughter Case Should Prompt Action

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents says the first conviction under the new corporate manslaughter law should make firms with a lax approach to safety take action to put their own houses in order.

Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings has been convicted of the new offence of corporate manslaughter in relation to the death of a 27-year-old geologist. Alex Wright was investigating soil conditions when a deep trench on a development plot in Stroud collapsed on to him in September 2008.

The firm was sentenced at Winchester Crown Court today. It has been fined £385,000, payable over 10 years.

Roger Bibbings, RoSPA’s occupational safety adviser, said: “This conviction and the penalty handed down by the court should make less safety conscious firms - both large and small - sit up and think.

“The new corporate manslaughter offence was introduced as a way of ensuring that gross corporate failings resulting in death could be dealt with effectively by criminal law. It was aimed particularly at redressing the balance between successful prosecutions of small firms for the crime of manslaughter and faltering prosecutions of large firms.

“Given that this first case involved a needless death in a smaller firm, we will not see the full potential of the law, and its associated penalties, until there is a successful prosecution of a larger organisation. But it should prompt those in senior positions in all types of organisation to check that their own house is in order. Those who can assure themselves that their health and safety management systems are effective have nothing to fear.”

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act came into force in April 2008. It is designed to bring prosecutions in the very worst cases resulting in work-related death - those in which health and safety standards have fallen far below what could have been reasonably expected.

Although individuals are not liable under this law, prosecutions for corporate manslaughter (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland) and corporate homicide (in Scotland) will consider 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. Penalties can include unlimited fines, remedial orders and publicity orders.

It should also be noted that corporate manslaughter prosecutions can be run alongside others for health and safety offences and these can include the prosecution of directors for consent, connivance and neglect.

Roger Bibbings added: “There is currently a new ‘light touch climate’ in health and safety. However, we cannot have light touch justice when people fail badly to meet their obligations to protect workers. The corporate manslaughter law is therefore an important part of the UK’s overriding health and safety system.”

RoSPA has information and advice for directors & senior managers at
www.rospa.com/occupationalsafety/sector/directors.aspx.

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