The long-awaited draft corporate manslaughter Bill has been published.
Home secretary Charles Clarke announced the Bill today, which will create a new criminal offence of corporate manslaughter. It was a manifesto commitment in Labour's 2001 General Election campaign.
If the Bill becomes law, companies could be prosecuted for manslaughter if someone dies because a firm's senior management "grossly fails to take reasonable care for the safety of employees or others".
However, under the draft Bill, company directors will not face jail. The maximum penalty will be an unlimited fine.
Clarke said the corporate manslaughter Bill would also apply to most government departments, the wider public sector and industry.
Health and Safety Commission (HSC) chairman Bill Callaghan said: "We are very pleased to see the Home Office proposals and that they reflect HSC thinking, especially with regards to application to the Crown.
"This adds emphasis to our message that sensible health and safety is a cornerstone of a civilised society.
"We hope that the publication of the proposals means that there will soon be new and effective legislation in place."
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said the proposed legislation would help to make the workplace safer by providing a new sanction against organisations who "show scant regard for the health and safety of their employees".
"The TUC recognises that the draft Bill covers a number of complex areas... We are pleased that the government has agreed that the legislation should apply to Crown bodies, but disappointed that the draft Bill does not threaten individual directors with the ultimate sanction of a jail sentence."
Rod Freeman, a partner at law firm Lovells, said the proposals are a "significant improvement" on previous suggestions and should generally be welcomed.
"It is important that this law is structured in such a way that it doesn't lead to the pursuit of scapegoats every time there is an accident and these proposals are an important step in the right direction," he said. "There are, however, still areas which need clarifying and further thought such as the scope of penalties."
The draft Bill will be up for consultation until 12 June.