TUC calls for urgent law review

Corporate manslaughter is back on the agenda following a not guilty verdict
on dockland death

The Government is being urged to bring forward plans for a new law on
corporate manslaughter, after a company was cleared in November of manslaughter
in the case of a casual worker decapitated by the jaws of a crane.

John Monks, general secretary of the TUC, said the not guilty verdict was
"devastating blow" to the victim’s family.

"It is also a blow to everyone who wants to see fewer people killed at
work. It puts the pressure on the Government – we need a new law on corporate
killing so that corporate responsibility is clear and the penalties are
effective, and we need it as soon as possible," he said.

In March, 2001, the Government proposed creating a new offence of corporate
killing, designed to make companies and public bodies criminally liable for
deaths caused by poor safety management.

However, the legislation was not included in the last Queen’s Speech,
although ministers have indicated the subject is still very much on the agenda.

Simon Jones, 24, was killed at Shoreham dockyard in West Sussex in May 1998
when the jaws of a mechanical grabber closed over him, severing his head.

A jury at London’s Old Bailey cleared general manager Richard Martell and
the company, Euromin, of manslaughter, although the firm was found guilty of
two breaches of health and safety regulations. It was fined £50,000 and ordered
to pay £20,000 in costs.

Jones, a student on his first day in the job, had been helping to unload
bags of stones from the hold of a cargo ship. He was killed when the lever that
operated the grab got caught in the clothing of the crane operator, causing it
to close.

The HSE said the verdict showed the difficulties within the present legal
system of bringing a case of manslaughter against a company or individual out
of a death in the workplace.

But the fact that the company had been heavily fined showed that health and
safety laws had been effective in this case, a spokesman added.

Corporate complacency to blame

Corporate complacency is at the heart of this year’s 34 per cent rise in
workplace deaths, the Industrial Society has claimed.

In October, the HSC confirmed there had been 295 workplace fatalities in
2000/2001, compared with 220 the previous year.

The society added its weight to calls for the Government to proceed with its
proposed corporate manslaughter legislation (see above) without delay and urged
employers to revisit their risk management programmes.

Funding for the Health and Safety Executive needed to be increased and
company directors needed to make sure health and safety was a boardroom issue,
it added.

At the same time, a poll by the TUC has shown greater appetite among the
general public for prosecutions of firms that flout health and safety laws.

The telephone poll of 1,000 people found 45 per cent of respondents wanted
to see more prosecutions, compared with 19 per cent against.


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