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New corporate manslaughter law is now in force


On 6 April 2008 the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 came into force. This means that companies and other organisations now can be found guilty of an offence of corporate manslaughter/homicide as a result of serious management failures that have led to a gross breach of a duty of care and, consequently, a fatality. Unlimited fines can be imposed on companies or organisations found guilty. However, it should be borne in mind that individuals can still be tried under other legislation, and imprisoned if found guilty.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland the new offence is called corporate manslaughter, whereas it is known as corporate homicide in Scotland.

Even though it is not part of health and safety law, the Act has the support of the HSE (Health and Safety Executive), which has created a dedicated section on its website with downloads, FAQs and links. The Ministry of Justice leads on the Act and has created a webpage for the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 and another that provides guidance. This second page includes two PDF downloads, one being a four-page leaflet that provides a general introduction to the new Act and explains how the new offence of corporate manslaughter/homicide works and where it applies. The document is intended to provide an overview for employers, senior managers and others.

The second document is much longer and is aimed at people such as health and safety managers and professionals who need to know in detail how the new Act works.

According to the Ministry of Justice guidance, the new Act does not require organisations to comply with any new regulatory standards, but organisations should ensure that they are taking proper steps to meet their current legal duties. When cases come to court, juries will consider how the fatal activity was managed or organised throughout the organisation, including any systems and processes for managing safety and how these were operated in practice. Note that a substantial part of the failure within the organisation must have occurred at a senior level.

As well as the unlimited fine mentioned already, courts will be able to impose a 'publicity order', requiring the organisation to publicise details of the conviction and fine, and a 'remedial order' requiring the organisation to take steps to address the failures that led to the fatality.

The Ministry of Justice guidance also states: "Failures by senior managers to manage health and safety adequately, including through inappropriate delegation of health and safety matters, will leave organisations vulnerable to corporate manslaughter/homicide charges."

If any aspects of health and safety management are delegated, it is prudent to ensure that the organisation and individuals are competent to perform the allocated tasks. For example, the Consultancy Division of Pilz Automation Technology operates a fully documented and audited Competence Management Scheme and always ensures that consultants are competent to undertake the tasks asked of them. As of 6 April 2008, this type of competence management is likely to be of much greater interest to companies and organisations seeking to delegate health and safety management.

Please contact Pilz to request more information about health and safety consultancy services.

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