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Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Corporate Manslaughter Act 2007 and BS OHSAS 18001

This Act of Parliament brings into law an offence of Corporate Manslaughter where a Company, Partnership or Owner can be found guilty of causing death by gross negligence. Previously it was necessary to prove that someone within a Company, Partnership or Owner was guilty of gross negligence.

Far from bringing relief to Company Director, Managing Partners and Owners, this could be a double edged sword as the organisation can be prosecuted as well as the Senior individual and Health and Safety Officer.

Here is part of the Act which gives guidelines for Jurors to consider when trying a case brought under the Corporate Manslaughter Act:


(1)(a) it is established that an organisation owed a relevant duty of care to a person, and
(b) it falls to the jury to decide whether there was a gross breach of that duty.

(2) The jury must consider whether the evidence shows that the organisation failed to comply with any health and safety legislation that relates to the alleged breach, and if so:

(a) how serious that failure was;
(b) how much of a risk of death it posed.

(3) The jury may also:

(a) consider the extent to which the evidence shows that there were attitudes, policies, systems or accepted practices within the organisation that were likely to have encouraged any such failure as is mentioned in subsection (2), or to have produced tolerance of it;

(b) have regard to any health and safety guidance that relates to the alleged breach.

(4) This section does not prevent the jury from having regard to any other matters they consider relevant.

(5) In this section "health and safety guidance" means any code, guidance, manual or similar publication that is concerned with health and safety matters and is made or issued (under a statutory provision or otherwise) by an authority responsible for the enforcement of any health and safety legislation.

Clearly under "any other matters that the Jury considers relevant" could include a defence that the organisation had 'taken all reasonable steps'; this could include a good Health & Safety Management System.

If this system complies with BS OHSAS 18001:2007 and is assessed and accepted by an accredited certification body then this defence is valid and should result in the jury finding that the accident was exactly that, 'an accident'.

The costs of incorporating 18001 and then having it formally assessed can be fully justified as an insurance against conviction against Corporate Manslaughter. It will also allow Directors, Managing Partners and Owners to sleep soundly in their beds, knowing that they have done everything possible to avoid death or injury in their enterprise.

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