• Rob Castledine
  • 6 October 2015

H&S breaches BUT no corporate manslaughter case – where is corporate manslaughter going?

On 4 September 2015, Hugo Boss UK Ltd were handed a £1.2 million fine for failing to discharge a duty under Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (duty to others), and a breach of Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, Regulation 3 (risk assessment).

The case follows a tragic accident on 4 June 2013 in which a four year old boy, who was in the store at Bicester Outlet Village with his parents, was fatally injured after a large free standing mirror fell onto him.

The case was taken under H&S legislation as opposed to the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2008, but why when in 2008, the ‘new’ corporate manslaughter regime was heralded by many as ‘a sea change’ for H&S cases, have we still only seen a dozen or so cases of corporate manslaughter (CM)?

Following a fatal accident at work, the authorities can bring a court case on a number grounds:

  • The Police and Crown Prosecution Service can seek a manslaughter prosecution against the company concerned if they believe there has been a “.. serious breach of a duty care at senior level”.
  • The Enforcing Authority (HSE or Local Authority) can bring a more ‘traditional’ H&S case under H&S legislation such as the Health and Safety at Work etc.. Act 1974.

In the last seven years, since the change in CM legislation, there has been a wide discrepancy between traditional H&S cases and CM cases with no clear logic as to which cases fall into which category.

At the same time there are proposals to increase fine levels for H&S matters bringing them more in line with the turnover and size of the organisation. We’ve already seen this change earlier in June 2014 for environmental breaches and the new proposals for H&S are likely to be given the green light in November 2015.

Accepting that fines for larger organisations will rise, it seems to be irrelevant to those left behind after a following accident whether it’s for corporate manslaughter or H&S breaches. Of course the organisation concerned might have different view as a ’manslaughter’ conviction is likely to evoke more connotations and be more emotive. This also has to weighed against the likelihood that the H&S breach route is more likely to succeed and if the fines are likely to be at the same level as it would be for manslaughter charge – does it really matter anyway?

Let’s not forget in all these tragic cases, loved ones, family members and colleagues are left to carry out without that person close by - that’s the really penalty.

International Workplace run a Corporate Health and Safety Briefing which looks in detail at this case and others like it and is also IOSH accredited.