A renewed focus on HR practice is the likely outcome of government plans to
beef up corporate manslaughter laws, personnel professionals have predicted.
Recruitment, compliance with working time and other health and safety rules
were all flagged as potential problem areas.
Last week the Home Office confirmed it is considering introducing criminal
liability for directors who fail to "do anything reasonably
practicable" to prevent accidents. This follows a damning report from the
Commons select committee on the ineffectiveness of corporate manslaughter
If Home Office plans go ahead it could mean an organisation is liable if,
say, it fails to implement a drugs testing policy and a drugs-using employee
caused a death. It will also place a new emphasis on ensuring references and
qualifications are accurate.
Employees causing accidents when working more than the 48-hour limit could
also leave directors open to prosecution.
HR professionals in safety-critical industries recognised the need for the
proposal but warned that recruitment could be affected.
Brian Clementson, director of safety and quality of Virgin Trains, said that
the huge level of personal responsibility might put off potential management
"If something like this appears on the Statute Book, people might not
be willing to take on positions of responsibility."
Stephen Dunn, employee relations director at Scottish Power, warned that
there must be balance between individual and collective accountability.
"There is a danger that individuals could say, ‘It is no longer my
responsibility’ and they might start taking risks."
Current law can be used against smaller firms, where responsibility can be
pinned on individuals.
Last December two directors of haulage firm Roy Bowles Transport received
suspended jail sentences after a court ruled that the long working hours at the
firm contributed to a death caused by a driver (News, 30 November and 14
By Philip Whiteley
Firms must not get off lightly
Fines for health and safety breaches must never be less than the cost of
remedying the unsafe practice, a Commons select committee declared last week.
"We are worried about the number of firms which, having committed a
health and safety offence, either suffer no penalty at all or are faced with a
fine which is lower than the cost of complying with the law," the report
The investigation, prompted by the Paddington rail crash last October, also
found numerous cases of HSE inspectors failing to investigate an injury to an
individual who later succeeded in a civil case.
The report also backed the new law on corporate manslaughter.
The tough message follows moves by the Health and Safety Executive to crack
down harder under the new chairmanship of former TUC economist Bill Callaghan.
The select committee welcomed the announcement of naming companies in breach
of health and safety legislation (News, 30 November).
The fine for an offence is set by a magistrate, with maximum and minimum
levels set by the Home Office.
An HSE spokesman said it welcomes the report, and will respond in around
three months’ time.