New sentencing guidelines for the Corporate Manslaughter Act were introduced by the government in February 2016.
As a direct consequence, 19 fines of over £1M were levied compared to 3 in 2015 and none at all in 2014. In total, 660 cases were prosecuted in 2015/16 by the HSE or referred to the Procurator Fiscal in Scotland, of which around 95% resulted in convictions.
The new sentencing guidelines take into account both the seriousness of the incident and any indicators that the incident could be classified as being the result of fundamental systematic failings. The greater the severity of the incident and culpability, the greater the fine. For example, a mid-market company with turnover between £10M to £50M can be fined as much as £1.8 to £7M.
Of course, not all convictions resulted in fines alone. Some resulted in jail time. A building contractor was recently jailed for 8 months following the 2013 death of a casual labourer who fell through a fragile roof. Neither of the two casual workers hired to do the work were qualified to work at height and there were no safety precautions in place.
Could this be you and your business? The difference between a near-miss and a prosecution is nothing more than luck. Here are 5 companies whose ‘luck’ ran out in recent years. While the tragedy of the victims is palpable, and the fines and prison time significant, I often feel that, overlooked in all of this is the impact that it has on the individual in the dock – beyond the brand damage, beyond the corporate fine, even beyond the prison time where meted out.
How must it feel to have to face the families of those you have let down in court? To look into the eyes of the bereaved or maimed? One of the highest profile cases in recent years was the Alton Towers collision involving two trains on its Smiler ride. Nick Varney, the CEO of parent company, Merlin Entertainments, made a statement outside court after the company was fined £5M.
We’re obviously not party to the turmoil of his court appearance but there is a clue (about 3/4 through the short video) when Nick states, “Alton Towers and, indeed, the wider Merlin Group are not emotionless corporate entities. They’re made up of human beings who care passionately about what they do and, in that respect, the far bigger punishment for all of us is the knowledge that, on this occasion, we let people down with such devastating consequences. It is something none of us will ever forget, and it is something we are utterly determined will never be repeated.”
I think you will agree when watching the video that he is being totally sincere.
So how you can protect your workforce, your customers, your business and, indeed, yourself from serious failings and potential prosecution? The bare minimum is to have solid, relevant procedures in place. If these are paper-based health and safety processes then this is a good start but how can you be sure they are being correctly implemented and that your facilities supply chain (your duty of care) is fully compliant?
With solid, paper-based processes in place you really have done the hard work. The small innovation that you can make is to look at how you can facilitate those procedures throughout your supply chain. We developed e-permits to enable this innovation. We covered the what and why of e-permits in our last post, pointing out that our best clients already had well-conceived permit-to-work processes in place but implemented e-permits to ensure those processes transferred into the field. Yes, incidents can still occur but they will be much rarer and you will be able to demonstrate that you took all reasonable, practicable steps to mitigate them.
The new sentencing guidelines for the Corporate Manslaughter Act treat each incident separately (with stronger punishments than ever before) but exacerbate those punishments for consistent offenders. The message is clear – fail to prepare with an effective e-permits solution or prepare to fail if something goes wrong.
To view our recent webinar on corporate manslaughter, please go here.
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