Freight transport companies responsibilities in respect of corporate manslaughter act

Corporate manslaughter legislation means that companies, organizations and Government bodies face an unlimited fine if they’re found to have caused death by gross failings in the corporate management of their duties of care.
The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, puts the law on corporate manslaughter (in Scotland, corporate culpable homicide) onto a new footing, setting out a new statutory offence.
The offence addresses a key defect in the law that meant that, before a company could be convicted of manslaughter, a “directing mind” of the organization (that is, a senior individual who could be said to embody the company in his actions and decisions) also had to be guilty of the offence. The reality of decision making in large organizations does not reflect this and the law therefore failed to provide proper accountability, and justice for victims. In summary, an organization is guilty of the offence if the way in which its activities are managed or organized causes a death and amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care to the deceased. The new offence is intended to complement, not replace, other forms of accountability such as prosecutions under health and safety legislation and is specifically linked to existing health and safety requirements. The offence will support well managed organizations by targeting those which cut costs by taking unjustifiable risks with people’s safety. The new offence allows an organisation’s liability to be assessed on a wider basis, providing a more effective means of accountability for very serious management failings across the organization. The offence is concerned with the corporate liability of the organization itself and does not apply to individual directors, senior managers or other individuals. Nor is it possible to convict an individual of assisting or encouraging the offence. Prosecutions will be brought against the organization itself and not specific individuals. As with prosecutions against companies at present, organizations will be represented by their lawyers in court, although individual directors, managers and other employees may be called as witnesses.

However, individuals can already be prosecuted for gross negligence manslaughter/culpable homicide and for health and safety offences. The Act does not change this and prosecutions against individuals will continue to be taken where there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to do so. In practice it means that all involved in freight transport – both companies or self-employed individuals – in their best interest, should put as much effort as possible to promoting sound health and safety driving practices. Work-related road safety can only be effectively managed if it is integrated into your arrangements for managing health and safety at work. You should look at your health and safety systems and consider whether they adequately cover this area of work. The main areas you need to address are, policy, responsibility, organization, systems and monitoring.
Policy
Does your health and safety policy statement cover work-related road safety? Your policy should be written down if you employ five or more people.
Responsibility
Is there top-level commitment to work-related road safety in your organization and is responsibility clearly defined? Does the person who is responsible for it have sufficient authority to exert influence and does everyone understand what is expected of them?
Organization and structure
In larger organizations, your aim is to ensure that you have an integrated organizational structure that allows cooperation across departments with different responsibilities for work- related road safety. In smaller businesses, your aim is to ensure you consider the links between driving activities.
Systems
Do you have adequate systems to allow you to manage work-related road safety effectively? For example, are you confident that your vehicles are regularly inspected and serviced in accordance with manufacturers’ recommendations?
Monitoring
Do you monitor performance to ensure that your work-related road safety policy is effective? Are your employees encouraged to report all work-related road incidents without fear that punitive action will be taken against them? Do you collect sufficient information to allow you to make informed decisions about the effectiveness of existing policy and the need for changes?

The true costs of accidents to organizations are nearly always higher than just the costs of repairs and insurance claims. The consequences of an accident on the self-employed and small businesses are likely to be proportionately greater than on a larger business with greater resources. The benefits to you from managing work-related road safety can be considerable, no matter the size of your business.

  1. It allows you to exercise better control over costs, such as wear and tear and fuel, insurance premiums and legal fees and claims from employees and third parties.
  2. It also allows you to make informed decisions about matters such as driver training and vehicle purchase, and helps you identify where health and safety improvements can be made.
  3. Case studies and research have shown that benefits from managing work-related road safety and reducing crashes include:
  • fewer days lost due to injury;
  • reduced risk of work-related ill health;
  • reduced stress and improved morale;
  • less need for investigation and paperwork;
  • less lost time due to work rescheduling;
  • fewer vehicles off the road for repair;
  •  reduced running costs through better driving standards;
  • fewer missed orders and business opportunities so reduced risk of losing the goodwill of customers;
  • less chance of key employees being banned from driving, eg as a result of points on their licences.

Promoting sound health and safety driving practices and a good safety culture at work may well spill over into private driving, which could reduce the chances of staff being injured in a crash outside work.

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