Rarely has a new piece of legislation had such a tortuous history as the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. But what does the Act, which finally becomes law on 6 April, mean for employers?
The Act allows organisations, rather than individuals in senior management, to be convicted of manslaughter. As CIPD employee relations adviser Ben Willmott points out in our look at the new law (see p14), it “should hold no fear” for organisations which are safety-conscious and already comply with existing health and safety laws.
That’s not to say, however, that employers should do nothing to prepare. They should use the opportunity to carry out a review of their health and safety policies and procedures and look at areas of particular vulnerability within their organisation or sector.
Detractors argue that the Act has no teeth. Although the fines are unlimited, penalties for health and safety breaches have often been said to be inadequate and inconsistent. The government estimates that the number of employers convicted will be low, perhaps a dozen a year. Until the punishment fits the crime, the new offence will make no difference, its critics say.
But the tide may be turning. The government is proposing sentencing guidelines for corporate manslaughter and Health and Safety at Work Act offences (employers can be liable for both for the same incident) that result in a death. These are significant because, if implemented, it would mean that penalties would be based on the guilty organisation’s average annual turnover for the previous three years.
Those are numbers that, coupled with the damage to reputation of a manslaughter conviction and possible naming and shaming publicity order, ought to make even the most sceptical senior manager sit up and take notice.
Stephen Simpson, Consultant Editor