Business and Fleet — 31 August 2011
Corporate Manslaughter Prosecutions

In February 2011, Cotswold Geotechnical were fined £385,000 after being found guilty in the first ever corporate manslaughter prosecution in the UK. While this specific case was not related to fleet driver training, it served as a clear warning to companies as to how seriously breaches of this recent and untested law will be viewed.

Cotswold Geotechnical was a small firm, yet the fine of £385,000 was equivalent to an entire year’s turnover. The Sentencing Guidelines Council have recommended that the appropriate level of fine following conviction for corporate manslaughter will seldom be less than £500,000 and could amount to millions of pounds.

The company’s director Mr Peter Eaton (not in court due to being seriously ill with cancer) also came in for some damning criticism with the Judge calling his approach to health and safety “extremely irresponsible and dangerous”. The company may be forced into liquidation as a result of this judgement.

Now, almost exactly three years to the day since the Corporate Manslaughter Act came into force, proceedings have begun against a second company, Lion Steel. The case is being closely watched be legal experts and professionals in the HR and Health and Safety fields to see how the law will applied.

The Manchester based firm was charged over the death of employee Steven Berry, who fell through a fragile roof panel at one of the firm’s sites. The prosecution claim that three of the firm’s directors were aware of the risk but did nothing, and they now stand accused of manslaughter by gross negligence. The company and its directors are also being charged under the Health and Safety Act.

The case is of so much interest because Lion Steel is much larger with over 100 employees (Cotswold Geotechnical had only 5) and so the case is expected to clarify some critical parts of the law such as who qualifies as a senior manager, and also to provide some indication as to how a jury will evaluate the obligations and relative compliance of the company in question.

While, again, this case is not about a driving based fatality, it is expected to go some way to clarifying who could be deemed responsible within a company should one of their employees be involved in a fatal road accident. With the chances of a fatality occurring among fleet drivers standing at 1 in just 8000 for every 25,000 miles driven, it is surely only a matter of time before a firm is prosecuted for not taking driver training seriously.

We’ll keep you up to date on the progress of this case.

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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