The Corporate Manslaughter & Corporate Homicide Act 2007 comes into force in April and will introduce the new offence of corporate manslaughter in England and Wales and corporate homicide in Scotland.
Essentially a charge of corporate manslaughter can be brought if the way in which an organisation is managed causes the death of someone to whom a relevant duty of care is owed, and the breach of that duty is considered by the jury to be gross. Local authorities are exposed as they owe a relevant duty of care to many millions of people both as an employer and supplier of services to the community.
The 2007 act, however, does not introduce any new duties and so if authorities are already managing health and safety effectively they should have little to fear, although it is probably a good idea for councils to carry out a reality check just to be sure their approach stands up to scrutiny.
Chief executives, leaders and members will have to demonstrate that they provide effective leadership on health and safety issues and that health and safety responsibilities are articulated to, and understood by, everyone in the organisation, particularly managers. Clearly health and safety advisers and managers will be able to assist the senior management team.
Carrying out regular risk assessments is a legal requirement. These reduce the risks for different aspects of operations and focus effort on areas where there is a high risk of potential loss of life. Ensuring safe systems of work are in place for the use of vehicles, equipment and chemicals is important, as are processes for dealing with the risk of legionnaires disease, e-coli and asbestos. Effective risk assessment processes should also be a key focus for managers of social care services and head teachers.
The fine for a corporate manslaughter conviction is unlimited and very heavy fines can be expected.