*Convictions for corporate manslaughter in the food and drink manufacturing could soar under the new Corporate Manslaughter Act coming into effect on 6 April 2008, according to the UK risk adviser and insurance broker Aon. *
British companies responsible for work deaths, which have previously escaped prosecution, could now face a criminal record and unlimited fines, if they do not strengthen their health and safety strategies.
From April 1997 to March 2007 there were 37 fatalities in food and drink manufacturing, a sector that ranks among the highest of manufacturing injury rates. The greatest proportion (about 40%) of fatalities is related to workplace transport and 30% of falls from height were fatal. Across the UK, some 241 people were fatally injured in the workplace in 2006/07 alone (Source: Health & Safety Executive) yet there have only been 34 prosecutions and just six convictions since 1992, according to the Crown Prosecution Service.
Conviction under the former legal framework proved almost impossible as a company could only be convicted if the ‘directing mind’ or senior individual could be identified and found guilty for gross failings leading to the death. Now prosecutions are likely to prove more successful as the court can consider the wider corporate picture by looking collectively at the actions of senior management.
No claims culture*
Aon Director Peter Jackson said: “The good news is that the injury rate for the food and drink sector has dropped by almost 50% since 1990/91. Alongside this, an increasing number of migrant workers in the sector has lead to a reduction in claims for accidents as they have much less of a claims culture – but this is changing as they adopt the local culture.
“As such, companies cannot afford to be complacent about the duty of care owed to their employees. They must regularly review and monitor their health and safety procedures to overcome potential problems in the future, including the impact of prosecution under the Corporate Manslaughter Act. If a food and drink manufacturer can demonstrate that procedures were in place and correctly monitored, this could decrease the likelihood of conviction, in addition to preventing the fatality in the first place.”
Food and drink manufacturers whose accident records are better than the norm have applied the following:
Aon Technical Director Tom Sheffield commented: “MPs such as David Blunkett have argued that numerous public disasters and workplace accidents caused by companies’ gross failings have gone without punishment because the government has not previously had good tools to prosecute effectively. This inability to convict has been the largest driving force behind the new Act. Armed with this new law, prosecutors could be eager to put these weapons to the test.
“As such, this really serves as a wake up call to business to update their health and safety controls for the well-being of their employees and the public.”
Aon is also advising companies to protect their employees and themselves by:
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