United Kingdom law makes organizations liable for manslaughter in workplace deaths

Corporations can be convicted of manslaughter if death can be attributed to management activities

Large corporations and their management teams can now be held responsible and convicted for corporate manslaughter, according to new legislation passed in the United Kingdom.

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, which comes into force in April 2008, places liability in an employee’s death on “senior managers,” who are people or groups of people who play important roles in making decisions on a company’s management and activities or who actually manage the activities. Liability occurs where there is a “gross breach of duty of care” causing a death and the breach is directly because of the way the company’s activities are managed. In addition to private corporations, government departments and other British crown corporations are subject to the new law.

In the case of a conviction under the act, senior managers won’t be held personally liable unless it’s proven their personal conduct contributed to the employee’s death.

Employers in the U.K. aren’t faced with any extra obligations because of the law, but in the event of a workplace death and an investigation under the act, they need to be able to demonstrate their health and safety policies are effective, enforced and reviewed regularly.

Before the new law, large organizations in the U.K. were rarely convicted of negligence in workplace deaths because there had to be an individual, such as a manager or director, who could be identified as representing the “controlling mind” of the company. Because many large companies are controlled by a board of directors, it was virtually impossible to find individual responsibility and bring about a conviction. This also created unfairness in the old law, as smaller companies were held more responsible because they usually had one person in charge who could be identified and charged.

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