Company directors will not be held liable if corporate negligence had led to the death of a worker, following a new law passed in Parliament this week.
The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill was passed as law in the Commons and creates a new offence of corporate manslaughter in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and corporate homicide in Scotland.
The law will make companies, not directors, liable for any deaths due to a general breach of the duty of care by the firm. Individual directors would not be personally liable, as the new manslaughter offence would apply to corporations, including public bodies.
The Bill came as a “severe disappointment” for construction union UCATT, as it failed to include clauses which would have allowed the imprisonment of company directors, if their negligence had led to the death of a worker.
Without such clauses in the Bill, UCATT said there will not be a ‘step change’ in safety in the construction industry.
Alan Ritchie, general secretary of UCATT, said: “Ultimately any legislation involving corporate manslaughter is to be welcomed. However this is a hollow victory. The issue of director’s duties will not go away because without them the construction industry will not become an appreciably safer industry.”
The TUC has welcomed the long-awaited corporate killing law however.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “We are pleased that a sensible decision has been taken and the Bill will now become law. Even though unions wanted the Bill to make individual directors personally liable for safety breaches and for penalties against employers committing safety crimes to be tougher, we hope it will mean the start of a change in the safety culture at the top of the UK’s companies and organisations.
“The catalogue of avoidable workplace deaths in recent years has highlighted in stark terms the need for a change of attitude over safety in UK boardrooms. To make a real difference, we now need to ensure that this law is accompanied by a new legal health and safety duty on directors and a requirement on companies to report annually on their workplace safety culture.”
The new law could see unlimited fines if it were found that a death followed a serious failing by senior managers in the organisation of the corporation.