Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act

19th March 2008


A quarter of all vehicle mileage travelled annually on UK roads is for work purposes, yet a third of all crashes involve a vehicle that is being used for work. Every week around 200 road deaths and serious injuries involve drivers who are at work. In recognition of this in 2003 the Health and Safety Executive published its guidance Driving At Work: Managing Occupational Road Risk.

Until now, any prosecution has had to find an individual, or individuals, responsible for the fatality. The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide legislation means that it will be easier to prosecute all organisations and companies for manslaughter, (and homicide in Scotland), following a work-related death, where it is impossible to identify the individual responsible. Instead of having to identify the "controlling mind", where a large part of the procedural failure is at management level this will be sufficient to bring a successful prosecution.

Accountability for a fatal road crash will rest with proprietors, directors and senior management

Organisations will have to ensure that they have a complete health and safety regime in place for any employee who drives as part of their work. Whilst this may appear to be another layer of red tape, it can be used to enhance business efficiency and have a positive effect on the organisation’s bottom line. Good managers will use the legislation to turn a threat into an opportunity.

In the event of a work-related death, attention will focus on the organisation’s senior management to see if they have put the correct procedures in place and that those procedures were robust enough, monitored and managed properly.

In essence, the organisation and its procedures will be scrutinised to see if their management strategies could have caused the fatality, and secondly, if any failure amounts to a gross breach in the duty of care to the person killed. Should the organisation fail either of these criteria instead of any individual being found guilty of gross negligence, the organisation as a whole will be prosecuted.

The legislation goes to the heart of the organisation culture.

Typical instances that would leave a company open for prosecution could include:

  • Companies that expect their van drivers to make an excessive number of deliveries and collections in a day.
  • Suppliers that promise delivery times which are impossible to achieve without exceeding speed limits.
  • Company sales reps who set themselves an unreasonable schedule.
  • Employees who are expected to arrive at a remote site, work all day and travel home again afterwards.

Practices such as these put the driver, their passengers and all other road users at risk. Under the new Corporate Manslaughter Act these practices will be deemed to be unacceptable. Senior management which has not taken control of the underlying issues are leaving the company open to prosecution when a fatality occurs. In short the Act will pick up companies that fail to embed health and safety into their management process.
The Act covers all companies, businesses and organisation, regardless of size

This also covers partnerships, trade unions, employer's organisations, local authorities and NHDS trusts as well as some government departments. Details can be found in Schedule 1 of the Act (see details below).

The penalties for organisations are severe.

The courts can impose any or all of the following punishments:

  • An unlimited fine. This will probably be based on turnover and profitability and could include global or group turnover.
  • A publcitiy order. The convicted organisation would be required to publicise its failings.
  • A remedial order. The organsation would be forced to put the systems in place to control any future risk.

It will still be possible to prosecute individuals under existing health and safety legislation as will civil actions, criminal prosecutions and common law manslaughter.
Anyone who drives as part of their work is covered by the Corporate Manslaughter Act.

Companies need to be aware that the Act covers all employees irrespective of their duties, the amount of driving they do or who owns the vehicle, and even includes contractors and associated agencies. People commuting to and from a fixed base are outside its scope. For instance, an employee who lives in Ipswich and works at the company's head office in Bury St Edmunds, their commute from home to work is not covered under the Act. However, if the employee goes to Bury St Edmunds via a site in Sudbury the whole of that journey would be deemed as an at-work journey.

The steps are easy to follow, however specialist help may be needed.

Compliance with the Act is exactly the same as compliance with any other health and safety requirement, all about good management.

Work Related Road Safety should be included in any existing Health and Safety policies and procedures. The Health and Safety Executive Driving At Work; Managing Occupational Road Risk has become the minimum acceptable standard for the management of occupational road risk. Outlined below are the steps which are regarded as best practice.

Responsibility for Health and Safety has to start at the very top.

A chain of command needs to be established, starting at the top and with board members/proprietors, and descending through senior managers, managers and individuals all must be aware of what their obligations, responsibilities and duties are.

Everyone need a full understanding of their duty of care and the need to enforce and continually improve it. Systems need to be set up and duties allocated to key members of staff to ensure that everything resonably practicable is being done to reduce and void risks on the road.

Risk assessments, audits and health checks should be carried out to identify risks within the organisation; this must include all employees driving on company business, contractors and associated agencies.

Companies with five or more employees must have written Health and Safety policies, they are advisable for smaller organisations. The risks need to be evaluated, policies written on how to minimise the risk, and controls implemented to cover or eliminate them. All employees need to be made aware of and, crucially, understand the policies and he need for them. The policies will need regular updating and all employees need to be involved with this, both in terms of being aware of the updates, but also having an input into them.

One of the pitfalls that employers often fall into is trying to impose a Health and Safety regime, rather than bringing the managers and employees with them. Where Health and Safety is viewed, at any level in the organisation, as an imposition the systems quickly break down.

Records must be maintained to ensure that all vehicles used on company business (including the employees own) are legal, fit for the purpose and regularly maintained.

Driving licences and insurances must be checked regularly (3 monthly and at renewal) for all employees who drive on company business, to check eligibility to drive.

Accident management procedures should be put in place to assess any collisions so that they can be avoided in the future.

It is also essential to ensure that the systems are in place for continual reporting, monitoring, measurement, evaluation and improvement.

Working smarter not harder; Help is at hand

Companies that take the Corporate Manslaughter Legislation on board will look at the issue carefully and, in all probability, will end up working smarter not harder. There are economies to be made in terms of fuel usage, vehicle down time and journey efficiency. Driver training is a cost effective way of reducing road risk, trained drivers will also use less fuel and be kinder to their vehicles.

Quality Education for Drivers (QED) is a driver training company that specialises in helping organisations, irrespective of their size, with their Occupational Road Risk. They have a wealth of knowledge on Managing Occupation Road Risk and are able to provide recourse, assessments and training. Please contact QED on 01473 824092 or que1@btopenworld.com

Further Information can be obtained from:

Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 - http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2007/20070019.htm

Department for Transport - www.dft.gov.uk/drivingforwork

Health and Safety Executive - www.hse.gov.uk/roadsafety

Driving at Work: Managing Occupational Road Risk - www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg382.pdf

Quality Education for Drivers (QED) 01473 824092 qed1@btopenworld.com

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