• International Workplace
  • 25 March 2008

Employers complacent about corporate manslaughter law

Employers are unaware of the impact of new health and safety legislation which could see them heavily fined and shunned by customers and suppliers if found guilty of killing people by their actions.

A survey of UK business managers conducted by Workplace Law Group reveals that three quarters (73%) of firms do not know what health and safety cover their insurance provides, and that half (46%) have made staff aware of their health and safety policies but are actually failing to ensure that policies are being implemented in the workplace.

After an eleven year gestation period, the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 – one of the most important pieces of health and safety legislation for over 30 years – comes into force on 6 April 2008. The Act has wide-ranging implications for all employers – large or small, public or private – and could lead to corporations being heavily fined if their gross negligence leads to someone’s death.

No large organisation has ever been convicted of manslaughter under the existing regime, but commentators predict that fines under the new Act could reach millions of pounds, breaking the current record fine for a health and safety offence of £15m.

Workplace Law Group surveyed over 300 employers across the UK to find out how well prepared businesses are for the new legislation, and what the key areas of concern are.

  • 70.5% of employers are most concerned about publicity orders, believing these to have the biggest impact on a business. Publicity orders will mean employers found guilty of corporate manslaughter will have to publicise the fact that they are ‘corporate killers’, with the inevitable negative publicity that will follow.
  • 16% believe fines to be the biggest worry, as they are uncapped, and can be based on a company’s annual turnover. However, 70% say they have in place proper systems and procedures so that even if they do have an accident they will not be fined.
  • When considering insurance, people appear to be unsure as to whether they are covered. 7% don’t want to pay insurance cover for costs they will never encounter, and 13% have not looked into their existing policy to see if they will be covered. 53% say they are going to check their existing employers’ liability policy to see if it extends to corporate manslaughter – but with the legislation coming into effect in under three weeks, time is running out.
  • Driving appears to be an area where employers are putting measures in place to cover themselves. 55% have policies in place that make it a disciplinary offence for employees to have their mobile phones switched on whilst driving. And an encouraging 84% make their drivers undergo comprehensive driver training.
  • Only 9% of employers surveyed have a health and safety director on their board, with the majority content for senior managers to delegate responsibility where needed. 46% have made staff aware of health and safety policies but do not actively make sure they are adhered to, and 6% admit that directors and senior managers have been known not to follow health and safety procedures themselves.

David Sharp, Managing Director of Workplace Law Group, says:

“While corporate killing legislation has been on the cards since 1997, what we are seeing come into force next month bears little resemblance to the original proposals. The danger for employers is that, because it has been debated, chopped and changed so publicly, everyone thinks they know what the new law involves. These survey findings prove this is clearly not the case: there’s going to be a sting in the tail for any organisation that isn’t properly prepared.”

In all, it would appear that employers are aware of the legislation, but not necessarily of the intricacies of the Act. It appears that people are unclear exactly who is covered – i.e. not just employees but visitors, members of the public, and children – and how far employers’ responsibilities extend. 

To test how prepared you are for the implementation of the new Act, click here now »

corporate manslaughter Workplace Law Group has published new guidance on the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, to help managers and directors get to grips with this key piece of legislation.  

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act: Special Report is available as an electronic download for £99 including VAT or in printed hard copy format.

To order copies tel. 0871 777 8881 or buy online here »