On culture, safety and corporate manslaughter

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You’re an SME – why should you worry about corporate manslaughter?  You’re not in a dangerous business so as directors, why should you be concerned? This blog discusses obligations of managers on culture, safety and corporate manslaughter

Achieving a safety cultureThe answer is simple.  You are not immune from the act just because you a small firm.  And every firm has risks.  Often because they are least safety-aware, the ‘least dangerous’ firms are the ones where catastrophe strikes.

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 was introduced to set the way for firms to be found guilty of corporate manslaughter in cases of gross breach of duty of care and or following serious management failure.

First Conviction

HRZone.co.uk (the online HR community discussion forum) reported on Monday 21st February that a four person firm has been fined £385,000 and the company has been convicted of corporate manslaughter.  This SME in a traditionally safe profession is the first firm in the UK to be convicted.

A member of staff (a junior geologist) was killed when a trench in which he was collecting samples collapsed on top of him.  The judge commented that the death occurred as a result of a gross breach of duty of care on the part of the firm’s management.

Avoiding Prosecution

So, how do you comply with the law, secure a safe working environment for your staff and avoid the very real risk of prosecution?   Prosecution can attract an unlimited fine, which could of course sink the strongest of firms.  The answer is on four parts.

  • You review your health and safety procedures;
  • You take your obligation under health and safety law seriously;
  • You conduct risk assessments, and
  • You ensure all staff know and understand their obligations and the processes in place to protect them.

In short, you create a safety culture.


Remember that health and safety covers all aspects in the business including travel, equipment and the working environment.  The HSE and Institute of Directors have produced a set of guidelines on effective management and leadership of health and safety.  This can be found at  http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg417.pdf.

The key principles discussed in the document are the need for strong and active leadership from the top, employee involvement and risk assessment and review.  Health and safety impacts on everyone employed in the firm and also on others who interact with the firm.  It is very much about people – ensuring that they understand their obligations and ensuring that they understand the protective processes that have been implemented and why they are important.  Health and safety is also about the culture prevailing in the firm.  And culture is a people issue.  Culture can be changed and firms can become safety-oriented.

Previous Writings

This is a topic that TimelessTime has written on before; follow this link to read our article ‘On Duty of Care’ which develops a simple model that suggests when to act and how to determine what action is needed.  Do talk to us also about achieving change in culture to become safety oriented.  Safety is part process, part people.  One without the other is only half a solution.

TimelessTime can help you develop sound systems and processes which allow people to add to the bottom line.  Good practices, managed effectively, will also mean that you are unlikely to face the stiff penalties handed down to the four man firm discussed at the outset of this article.

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