In the five years since the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act 2007 came into force (in 2008) the number of prosecutions under the act has risen sharply. Figures released by the Criminal Prosecution Service (CPS) demonstrate that the number of cases in 2012 rose by 40 per cent on the previous year. In addition to corporate prosecutions under the act, senior management are increasingly finding themselves subject to prosecutions.

Increasing Cases of Corporate Manslaughter

According to the CPS there were 63 cases in 2012, compared to 45 in 2011. To date only three cases have resulted in prosecution, 141 have been settled and 56 are ongoing. The apparent low level of prosecutions masks the fact that the process is complex and takes an extended period to come to court. The first successful prosecution was in 2011 but it related to a death in 2008, shortly after the Act came into force. Even if a case does not end in prosecution the length of the process itself can have serious impacts on any business.

Corporate and Personal Prosecutions

While the act was established to create a legal framework in which corporate bodies could be prosecuted, it works alongside existing Health and Safety regulations with the result that senior executives are increasingly finding themselves facing additional charges relating to their duty of care. These charges, if negligence is proved, can result in custodial sentences. The act is designed to protect employees and companies alike, but for small firms, the burden of legislation and meeting Health and Safety or Human Resources requirements can be onerous. The profile of the companies prosecuted so far demonstrates that it is indeed the smaller, owner-managed firms, which are most vulnerable to prosecution.

Executive Responsibility

For the smallest of firms, working in high risk industries, ensuring that senior managers have relevant training in regards to Health and Safety laws is perhaps more crucial than ever. For any firm IOSH safety courses for senior executives are an essential consideration and important tool for raising awareness and fostering good practice. Safety training is crucial in any firm, but given that the three successful prosecutions under the new legislation have, to date, have featured small firms, then the implications for small firms are obvious. In one of the recent cases the company pleaded guilty to corporate manslaughter in order to avoid the likelihood that a senior director would face manslaughter charges and a potential prison sentence. Whilst Health and Safety training cannot supplant good practice, or adequate safety provisions, the training can reinforce positive attitudes and stronger understanding of the legislation involved. Given that the number of prosecutions is on the rise the apparent low level of prosecutions should not leave room for complacency; IOSH Safety for Senior Executives is increasingly a basic business essential.

IOSH Safety for Senior Executives is an increasingly important resource for all firms, this is especially the case for smaller firms.