Edwin Coe reviews a recent case in which a company has been found guilty of corporate manslaughter following the death of an employee who fell through a roof whilst carrying out roof maintenance.
Lion Steel Equipment Limited pleaded guilty to the charge under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 (the Act). Charges of manslaughter against the three directors of the Company were dropped by the Prosecution in return for Lion Steel pleading guilty to corporate manslaughter. Other charges for breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 were likewise withdrawn.
Upon conviction, Lion Steel was fined £480,000 which is lower than the Sentencing Guidelines Council’s guidance suggested starting position of £500,000. The court took into account the guilty plea and also the possibility that a larger fine might imperil Lion Steel’s business and the employment of its remaining staff. The judge ordered the fine to be paid in instalments to allow time for the Lion Steel to take out loans secured against its premises. No remedial or publicity orders were made.
This is the third successful prosecution since the Act came into force in 2008. All three cases have involved the death of an employee leading from safety failings of the companies involved. The Act was introduced to make it easier to convict companies whose work activities cause someone’s death by linking the breach to senior management actions, i.e. those who play significant roles in the management, organisation and decision making in a company. The Act is concerned with the way an activity is managed or organised and considers how responsibility is discharged at different levels of an organisation. Senior management need to ensure that they have adequate processes for health and safety and risk management in place and that health and safety leadership within the organisation is adequate.
What is clear from these cases is that companies should take key practical steps to reduce the risk of health and safety incidents and prosecution under the Act including:
- Ensure that health and safety leadership within the company meets the standards set out in the joint guidance issued by the Institute of Directors and the Health and Safety Commission;
- Consider whether safety management systems have been successful to date, and what improvements should be made;
- Consider the value of an independent audit of health and safety compliance;
- Develop an incident response plan; and
- Review the organisation’s liability insurance to check that recoverable legal costs incurred under the Act would be covered.
Edwin Coe has acted in some of the major corporate manslaughter cases and has advised clients on the area for a number of years.
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