New corporate manslaughter laws will make prosecutions more likely

Investigations into workplace fatalities could become more intensive after new corporate manslaughter law comes into force, experts have warned.

Ray Hurst, president of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, said the change would give the Crown Prosecution Service a much greater chance of finding employers guilty.

From 6 April prosecutors will no longer have to prove that an individual acted as a ‘directing mind’ and was responsible for a death – they can charge a company instead.

Hurst told Personnel Today: “The investigators will be looking in great depth for system failures that make the organisation liable for corporate manslaughter. There will be a lot of digging around.

“HR professionals will have to think a lot harder about the systems they have in place. There will be much higher chances of prosecution.”

Investigators and trade unions have long been frustrated by the difficulties of finding a directing mind. According to the Centre for Corporate Accountability, almost 400 workplace deaths led to acquittals in the past 20 years, while only 52 resulted in convictions.

As well as remedial orders, publicity orders and in extreme cases bans on directors, guilty companies could face fines of up to 10% of their annual turnover.

Janet Asherson, head of health and safety policy at employers’ group the CBI, said prudent firms had already reviewed their health and safety procedures.

But she warned: “In the event of a fatality, it is inevitable that companies will be subjected to more intensive scrutiny, so staff also need training to deal with the new procedures.”

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