The case against of Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings recently came to a conclusion and has caused much comment in the press and within the health and safety industry but most people are still asking what can be learned and how important the outcome was for Directors and business owners. It is know that the company had some serious failing in the way in which it managed risk and its working practices did not go far enough resulting in the death of a 27 year old worker and a fine of £385,000.
The Corporate Homicide Act was first and foremost a response to major accidents involving large corporations, examples being the Hatfield Train Crash and the Zeebrugge Ferry Disaster. Under the Act companies can be found guilty of a gross failure that leads to a persons death regardless of whether a Director or Manager within the business can be held liable. Up until this point prosecutors had to identify the ‘controlling mind’ who was responsible meaning that large companies could, conceivably, hide behind their many layers of management and be protected, to some extent, from the full force of the law.
The question relating to Peter Eatons company (Costwold Geotechnical Holdings) is was this a true and appropriate test of the law? It would seem that within a small business employing just four people and with only one Director the prosecutors would have a fairly easy job identifying a ‘controlling mind’. If it was not the Managing Director then who else could it be?
Existing legislation already allowed for prosecution in this case and cases could already be brought against individual Directors. The personal charges against Peter Eaton were dropped but the Corporate Manslaughter case continued, perhaps pushed on by the weight of the many cases waiting to be heard after this test of the law.
It would seem that the outcome is mixed; the case was not a good test of the law, the business being too small and the controlling mind too easily identifiable. It’s a case which could have been dealt with under existing provisions. The true test of the legislation will only come with another large corporation having a serious accident, only then will we see if the legislation is capable of holding the largest of corporations to account.
In the meantime perhaps an easier solution to the whole matter would be to simply require large corporations to name a Senior individual as responsible for safety, although who would want such a title remains a matter for debate.
If you’ve got questions or need support on safety in the industrial, contracting or construction sectors please contact us for sensible and proportionate advice on 01453 800100