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First corporate killing prosecution

A company has been charged under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007

Photo of construction workers: istock

30 April 2009

The company director of a geological survey company has been accused of a ‘gross breach’ of duty under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. The first prosecution under the act follows the death of Alexander Wright who was taking soil samples at a site near Stroud in Gloucester, he died after a pit collapsed on him in September 2008.

Companies convicted of the corporate manslaughter face an unlimited fine and a judicial ‘publicity order’ requiring them to draw attention to the offence.

Crown Prosecution Service lawyer Kate Leonard said: “An organisation is guilty of corporate manslaughter if the way in which its activities are managed or organised cases a death and amounts to a gross breach of a duty of care.”

The personal injury department at Leigh Day & Co has represented many clients who have been injured in workplace accidents. Many of these clients will be hoping to rely on the new act that has recently come into force in the UK. The act is intended to address deaths caused by systems failure, e.g. a prevalent lack of training or supervision and stresses the importance of good safety training and assessment and effective health and safety management in organisations. A new system of fines under the act means that large corporations could be charged up to 10% of turnover for fatalities caused by poor health and safety systems.

Meanwhile the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been forced to reveal for the first time the names of construction workers killed on building sites, the names of the companies that they worked for and the cause of death. The HSE was prompted to publish this information by the Information Commission and figures show that more than half of the 72 builders who died last year worked at small companies employing less than 50 people. Small companies do not always have the resources to make safety and training a priority. Ucatt general secretary Alan Ritchie said. "The HSE must introduce a zero-tolerance approach to safety, and pressure needs to be applied all year round on small construction companies. As the law stands, a company boss is more likely to be sent to prison for not paying their taxes than killing one of his workers. It is an appalling state of affairs and sends a terrible message that we as a society consider life to be cheap."

Laing O'Rourke fined £135,000

Leigh Day represented the widow of steel fixer Kieron Deeney who died in an avoidable accident after falling 40 feet through a hatch cover that was covered only with a piece of plywood fixed by two nails. The inquest into his death brought a verdict of unlawful killing. Lang O’Rourke, the company running the site, was fined £135,000 on 30 April 2009 after pleading guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act. At the Old Bailey judge Richard Hone warned the construction company that it must eliminate a “casual attitude to risk” that existed on sites. He said: “The whole company from top to bottom should feel thoroughly ashamed for this needless death.”

Leigh Day & Co hopes that workers in all dangerous occupations, especially in the construction, off-shore and agriculture industries, will continue to be protected by existing legislation and that managers responsible for protecting the health of their workers will take note of the most recent act that joins and strengthens the canon of health and safety law.

Daniel Easton, a partner in the personal injury department said:

“This prosecution represents a welcome and long overdue change in the law on corporate accountability. The previous state of the law which required one person to be identified as the "directing mind" of the responsible company was inadequate and allowed large corporations to evade their responsibilities due to the complexity of their management systems and a 'corporate veil'. The government must do absolutely everything possible to reduce workplace accidents and the deaths that result from those accidents every year. With the threat of prosecution under the Corporate Manslaughter Act we are a step closer to making sure all workplaces are safe for employees in future”.

Information was correct at time of publishing. See terms and conditions for further details.

Information was correct at time of publishing. See terms and conditions for further details.

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