Legal loopholes, which make it difficult to identify those responsible for corporate killing, are about to be closed. Time is running out for employers who allow employees to be killed or injured through negligence.
So, what does this mean for councils whose minds and resources are on other things?
Some councils feel that issues such as the safety of social workers, stress and assaults from the public should be the focus of government attention - not corporate killing. However, the legal message is clear and councils must comply.
Anyone with responsibility for health and safety could find themselves vulnerable if they fail to conform fully with the regulations. Some councils are making major safety improvements, but the rest must act soon and red tape cannot be used as an excuse for inertia.
In a recent British Safety Council survey, some council safety advisers complained that best value and performance indicators meant they did not always have resources for safety management. However, this is unlikely to be accepted as a defence against corporate killing and councils must put safety high on the corporate agenda.
Responsible directors with sufficient knowledge to deal with health and safety effectively should not be afraid of the proposed laws, which include:
-- Corporate killing: intended to make organisations accountable in criminal law when they fall below the standards that could reasonably be expected in the circumstances. The maximum penalty would be an unlimited fine and an order to correct the original cause of any accident.
-- Reckless killing: where a person was aware of the risk that their conduct would cause death or serious injury, knew that in the situation it was unreasonable to take the risk, but did so anyway. The proposed maximum penalty is life imprisonment.
-- Killing by gross carelessness: where a person should have been aware of the risk of causing death or serious injury. Proposed maximum penalty: 10 years' imprisonment.
Councils with good health and safety management systems have nothing to fear. For others, the time to act is now. There will be no Crown immunity under the new legislation and those that fail to take appropriate action will pay dearly.
Director general, British Safety Council