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First Corporate Manslaughter Conviction

20th March, 2011

Cotswold Geotechnical (Holdings) Ltd has become the first company to be charged with and convicted of corporate manslaughter under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 (“The Act”).

In 2008, an employee of Cotswold Geotechnical was taking soil samples from the bottom of a trial pit, when the soil collapsed, burying and asphyxiating him. The soil collapse was due to a failure to properly support the walls of the pit. The prosecution asserted that the Company had failed to take all reasonably practicable steps to protect the employee from an unsafe system of work, ignoring well recognised industry guidance and leaving the employee unsupervised on site.

Cotswold was convicted and fined £385,000 to be paid over ten years. The fine represents approximately 250% of the Company’s current turnover (100% of the turnover at the time of the accident) and the judge in the case has said that although it was not his intention to necessarily put Cotswold out of business, if that was the effect then that would be an unfortunate but unavoidable consequence.

The Act (which came into force on 6 April 2008) was introduced to make it easier to prosecute large corporations where a management failing has resulted in death.

Under the Act, an ‘organisation’ will be guilty of corporate manslaughter (or corporate homicide in Scotland) if the way in which its activities are managed or organised by its senior management cause a person’s death and amounts to a gross breach of the relevant duty of care owed to that person.

Critics have argued that the Act was introduced as a way of regulating and punishing large organisations and not necessarily companies of Cotswold’s size. Many have suggested that the use of alternative penalties provided in the Act would have been more appropriate in this situation. These other penalties include making a remedial order which would require the Company to take specific steps to rectify the breach.

This case has been viewed by many as a test case for the legislation and the successful conviction of Cotswold (and heavy penalties imposed on it) demonstrates the importance that businesses of all sizes create and maintain a culture of health and safety compliance. The implementation and regular updating of a comprehensive health and safety policy, ongoing monitoring and regular training will help achieve this.

For more information on this, or any other employment issue please contact Helen Watson on 01244 405565 or email her here.

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