Corporate manslaughter warning to businesses

Health and safety legislation

St John Ambulance is urging businesses to ensure proper health and safety measures are in place in the wake of the first corporate manslaughter trial verdict on 15 February. The organisation is warning that safety must be paramount to prevent tragic accidents from happening and to avoid suffering legal repercussions and an unlimited fine.

A tragic death

In September 2008, 27-year-old geologist Alexander Wright was employed by Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings Ltd to take soil samples from inside a pit. The pit had been excavated as part of a site survey near Stroud in Gloucestershire but the sides of the trench collapsed on top of Mr Wright, leaving him unable to breathe.

The company's managing director, Peter Eaton was too ill to stand trial, but the company was charged with the death of Wright by gross negligence under the Corporate Manslaughter Act 2007.

This case should serve as a deterrent

The company's managing director, Peter Eaton was too ill to stand trial, but the company was charged with the death of Wright by gross negligence under the Corporate Manslaughter Act 2007 and charged with breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act. On the 15 February a guilty verdict was reached and the company were ordered to pay £385,000, which it could pay back at a rate of £38,500 per annum. As the company is small, the judge Mr Justice Field, said that a larger fine may put this company into liquidation and cause job losses. However, he added that the repayments may still result in it liquidating, in which case it is an unfortunate but unavoidable consequence of the serious breach and that this should serve as a deterrent to others.

Employers held accountable

In 2009/10 there were 152 deaths in the workplace. Research by St John Ambulance* found that worryingly, over 15% of businesses have never carried out an assessment to determine risks within the workplace and therefore how to protect staff.

The nation's leading first aid and health and safety organisation is encouraging businesses to learn how to prevent workplace accidents.

Richard Evens, Training and Marketing Director at St John Ambulance said:

'We hope this case will inform employers in all sectors. Stringent processes must be in place to avoid a repeat of this tragic accident. The Corporate Manslaughter Act is there to safeguard against lax attitudes to health and safety by holding employers accountable for neglecting their duty of care to workers, visitors and customers. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Alexander Wright.'

*2,800 businesses were surveyed in September 2009