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The Corporate Manslaughter Act and your businesses

June 20, 2008

If you’re in business, the Corporate Manslaughter Act should be on your radar, even if you work in what you think is a fairly low-risk industry.

With modern modes of working, while the individual risks may not be rising, the overall range of things that you need to take into account is broader than ever and, in many cases, outside of your direct control.

In spite of this, you need to be able to demonstrate that you have taken all reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of your staff – and particularly to avoid fatalities.

Under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act, effective since 2008, corporations have been able to be charged with responsibility for a fatality, just as individual directors had previously been.

This makes it a business-wide concern to avoid any unnecessary incidents, wherever they may occur.

Remote Workers

Employees who work outside of the main business premises can pose a particular problem for managers, as you don’t necessarily have direct control over their workplace.

Despite this fact, you may still bear a burden of responsibility for training them properly, including ensuring that they know how to use any job-specific items of technology.

You may want to go so far as to carry out a full risk assessment on their chosen workplace – although again, this could raise access issues, and you might not be certain that your employee will always be working from the same place.

Employee Drivers

Like remote workers, employees who drive as part of their jobs can be a little harder to keep track of, as they’re not right there in the relative safety of your premises.

But when you send motorists out into the world on business-related tasks, you owe a duty of care to them, just as when you let them on to your premises in the mornings to start work.

Even if they’re using their own car or van, you might be wise to check that the vehicle is properly maintained, roadworthy, MOT tested, taxed, insured and so on.

You should also check that your employee actually holds a valid driving licence before sending them out in a vehicle, whether it is their own or a company car.

The Appliance of Science

Your hands may be tied in terms of protecting remote and mobile workers, but on your own premises you should take any and all necessary precautions to protect your employees against loss of life.

That goes beyond simply providing safety equipment such as hard hats on industrial sites, or putting up signs asking employees to exercise caution.

Most premises have fire alarms in place, but you might want to add a foam or water sprinkler system if your site handles volatile substances.

The internet – which has driven the trend towards more mobile working – can also be a valuable tool in protecting your staff.

Many monitoring systems now offer online alerts, in addition to phone calls or even text messages when something goes wrong, while you can use online tracking systems to see where your drivers are, if it seems appropriate to do so.

Overall, the point is not to eliminate every conceivable risk in its entirety; instead, you should take such precautions as seem sensible, while training your staff in health and safety concerns such that they are able to protect themselves against the unlikelier incidents.

For more details of the Corporate Manslaughter Act go to http://www.hse.gov.uk/corpmanslaughter/faqs.htm.