Corporate manslaughter law victory

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act became law in July 2007 after a difficult passage through Parliament.

The Act, which comes into effect in April 2008, should make it easier to prosecute organisations which cause the deaths of workers. However, it will still be necessary to show that the failure in health and safety which caused the death was down to decisions made at a senior management level.

For a time it looked as though the government would fail to get the new law onto the statute books after members of the House of Lords voted for an amendment on crown immunity exemptions relating to deaths in police custody.

It was never intended that the law would cover deaths in custody. But ministers conceded to the pressure from opposition members of the Lords in order that the Act would not be lost.

The family of 17-year-old Daniel Dennis from South Wales, who died in his first week at work in April 2003 when he fell through a skylight after being sent onto a roof with no prior safety training, had written to every member of the Lords asking them not to risk the Act for the sake of deaths in custody, no matter how important the issue.

Daniel's father Peter said: “We hope that as a result of this new law employers will understand that they are not above the law and that other tragic accidents will be prevented.”

Mick Antoniw, a partner at Thompsons Solicitors who represents the Dennis family said: “After a ten year battle at long last the families of the victims of corporate manslaughter, and the trade unions, have succeeded in achieving a law which will play a key part in improving health and safety and reducing deaths at work. The next part of the campaign is for legal duties to be imposed on directors of companies with responsibility for health and safety.”

Deadly statistics

• The number of workers killed last year at work was 241, an 11 per cent increase on the previous year, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
• Although there is an overall long-term downward trend in the number of worker fatalities, the rate of decrease has slowed over the last 15 years and there has been very little change in the overall rate over the last five years.
• Of the main industrial sectors, agriculture and construction have the highest rates of fatal injury. These two sectors account for 46 per cent of fatal injuries to workers.
• Falling from a height continues to be the most common type of accident, accounting for 19 per cent of fatal injuries to workers in 2006/07. Over the last decade there has been a steady and significant reduction in fatal injuries due to this type of accident. Being struck by a moving or falling object, and being struck by a moving vehicle, are the next most common fatal accidents.

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