Employers have expressed reservations about the draft corporate manslaughter Bill, announced yesterday by the government.
Home secretary Charles Clarke announced the Bill, 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.
The Institute of Directors (IoD) welcomed the draft Bill provisions including focusing on the responsibility of an organisations' working practices rather than limiting investigations to individual company bosses, no new burdens to be placed on companies which already comply with health and safety legislation and an extension to cover the government departments.
However, the IoD said it was concerned that unincorporated bodies (for example trade unions and partnerships) were not included and should be as a matter of priority.
John Cridland, deputy director general of the CBI, said there was already a mass of regulation that offers protection to employees, customers and the public.
"We understand the political need to reassure the public that everything is being done to make businesses accountable, but the draft Bill has some way to go if it is to be fair to companies," he said. "The draft Bill is right to focus on organisations and not individuals, but company structures vary and it needs to be much clearer about who will be regarded as 'senior management' and be held responsible.
"The draft is also right to distinguish between grossly negligent companies, which deserve to have the book thrown at them, and genuinely responsible employers who do everything possible to ensure safety. It is vital this fundamental principle is not undermined before any Bill becomes law."