Need to tighten up on health and safety

Mandy Turnbull, branch director of Bluefin in Newmarket, warns that directors need to tighten their health and safety procedures or face a grilling by the courts.One year after the introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act, companies are increasingly at risk of prosecution and face the prospect of having their entire safety culture examined by courts.

Mandy Turnbull, branch director of Bluefin in Newmarket, warns that directors need to tighten their health and safety procedures or face a grilling by the courts

ONE year after the introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act, companies are increasingly at risk of prosecution and face the prospect of having their entire safety culture examined by courts.

Indeed the Crown Prosecution Service is bringing the first ever prosecution under the new law in the case of Geotechnical Holdings Limited following the death in 2008 of a junior geologist. The employee was taking soil samples from inside a pit that had been excavated as part of a site survey. The sides of the pit collapsed, crushing him to death.

In addition, with the coming into force of the Health and Safety Offences Act 2008 earlier this year, the courts have increased powers to impose both fines and imprisonment on individuals. This will make it more likely that the CPS will consider the potential liability of management as a matter of course alongside any health and safety breaches that are committed by the company.


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Bluefin has highlighted health and safety as one of the areas most likely to suffer cutbacks in times of economic difficulty. However companies facing potential prosecution will have to show that they have developed and encouraged a culture of safety across the organisation.

The key criterion in any prosecution is whether the company in question breached its duty of care to employees and the general public. In any such breach, the attitudes, practices and behaviour prevalent across the organisation will be seen as a major contributory factor.

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Furthermore, the Act removed the biggest existing block to legal action: the need to find a senior representative guilty of manslaughter in order to prosecute the company.

“Duty of care” is the requirement placed upon companies to protect the health and safety of both their employees and any members of the public with whom its employees come into contact. Under the Act, a breach of the duty of care must be “substantially” due to a failure of senior management, but need not be the sole cause of death.

Convicted organisations will face unlimited fines. For large companies this could run into many millions of pounds, alongside the prospect of irreversible damage to reputation.

Directors may also face prosecution under the common law offence of gross negligence manslaughter and under health and safety legislation.

An effective regime of risk management is crucial if you wish to both protect your employees and minimise the risk of a guilty verdict in any prosecution. Minimising the risk of accidents is a company's biggest insurance policy against prosecution while also helping to protect the health of your employees.

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