More Corporate Manslaughter Convictions

Mark Dawes - Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Fifth Corporate Manslaughter Conviction

Water sports firm, Prince's Sporting Club has been fined £135,000 including costs, after pleading guilty to charges under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.

Earlier this year charges were being brought under the 2007 Act, and section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 following the tragic death of 11 year old Mari-Simon Cronjewho was killed at a friend’s birthday party at the club in Bedfont, west London, on 11 September 2010 when she fell from a 20-foot inflatable boat and was then hit by the speedboat towing it. She sustained fatal leg wounds.

The inflatable was not supervised by a competent adult in the speedboat to warn the driver if anyone fell into the water. The Crown Prosecution Service argued this constituted a gross breach of the club's duty of care.

Company director Frederick Glen Walker was charged with breaching Section 37(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act but the charge was subsequently dropped.

Reports state that Judge Alistair McCreath commented on sentencing, "I propose to fine the company every penny that it has. I have no greater power to do anything other than impose a fine and I cannot impose a greater fine than all of its assets."

The case is the fifth conviction under the 2007 legislation, with a number of other cases continuing under investigation.

Fourth Corporate Manslaughter Conviction

A further prosecution under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 has resulted in a guilty plea and fine including costs, of £110,000.

Downpatrick Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, found that J Murray and Sons, an animal feed mixing company in Northern Ireland were guilty of corporate manslaughter as a result of health and safety failings which led to the tragic death of an employee, Norman Porter.  In February 2012, it is reported that Mr Porter either fell, or was dragged, having caught his clothing, into an animal feed mixing machine; there were no witnesses to the incident.  

The Health and Safety Executive identified that the machine had been operating without safety guards for three years. Charges were originally brought against a Director of the company but were not proceeded with.  The court allowed the company to pay the penalty by installments of £20,000, as a result of the company’s financial situation which was “not in a healthy position” and to avoid jobs being lost.

In a separate case, the Crown Prosecution Service announced this month that a recycling company should be charged with corporate manslaughter, following the death of an employee who was working on a door to an autoclave which blew out under pressure. The autoclave is one of two large vessels at the recycling site which uses heat and pressure to process household waste into material for recycling. Individuals responsible for the operations, including the maintenance manager, operations manager and operations director also face charges under Section 7 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, which obliges them to take reasonable care for the health and safety of himself and of other people who may be affected by his acts or omissions at work.

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 came into force in April 2008, creating a new statutory offence for companies.  The Act was expected to create a new regime of tougher enforcement and stricter penalties for culpable firms, however to date, prosecutions have been scarce.  The outcome of cases due to go to trial next year are awaited.

The Future

Lawyers specialising in health and safety have predicted the frequency of convictions would accelerate as the Crown Prosecution Service has tens of corporate manslaughter cases open.

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act came into force in April 2008 across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It created a new offence, which is committed by a relevant organisation “... if the way in which its activities are managed or organised — (a) causes a person's death, and (b) amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased”.

The Questions you really need to ask are:

1. Do your staff carry out any hazardous activities that could result in someone's death? For example, restraining someone whilst unaware of the risks of positional asphyxiation?

2. Are your staff not doing something that they could be doing that can reduce the risk of someone dying in a restraint?

3. Are your staff competently trained in how to minimise the risk of positional asphyxiation and can you evidence those facts?

4. Can you evidence that if required to do so in a police investigation or by a court of law?

5. Are you aware that if you engage the services of a training provider to deliver training that you may become culpable for their acts and omission (see recent Supreme Court ruling on the 'Non-Delegable Duty of care)?

6. Can your training provider evidence, by means of a risk assessment - done to a suitable and sufficient standard - that what they are teaching is fit for purpose?

7. Or are you simply commissioning or training or following a system solely because is has been 'approved'?

8. If so, have you checked out what the 'approval' means and who 'approved' what?

9. Do any of these above questions concern you?

10. If no, then you are either doing exactly what you are doing, or you are blissfully ignorant of you potential liability.

11. If yes and you want to do something about it, then do something before someone else dies.
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