28. March 2011
This weeks post was written by guest blogger Chris Hinchcliffe, Senior Environmental, Health & Safety consultant for Delta Simons Environmental Consultants.
On 17 February 2011, Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings Ltd was fined £385K after being found guilty of corporate manslaughter under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. This was the first case in UK law under this Act. The court took into account that a greater fine would have tipped the company into insolvency and thus the judge allowed the business to pay the fine over a 10 year period. Charges against the sole director were dropped due to the worsening state of his health.
The company allowed an employee to work in a narrow 3.5 metre deep pit with no supported sides and it collapsed and killed him. The court findings were that they allowed employees to carry out such work knowingly and supplied no training, method statement, risk assessment or adequate information.
The Act applies across the UK and also extends to offshore installations covered by UK criminal law. The Act creates an offence whereby an organization will be guilty if the way in which its activities are managed or organised causes a person’s death and amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed to that person. This breach must lie mainly with the senior management team. The Act extends to companies and partnerships but not to individual directors.
A business can face an unlimited fine if convicted and ordered to publicize the conviction, which could have significant PR implications. Cotswold Geotechnical only has four employees currently and larger businesses should note that normal fines will seldom be less than £500K.
The outcome of the case should lead businesses to review their health and safety policies to ensure their management systems and work instructions are up-to-date. Staff should be fully aware of those policies and trained regularly on any important changes. Line management should supervise and audit work so that breaches are detected and corrected early.
Do you think that fault should lie with the corporation? Do you think similar legislation would pass in the United States?