Nobody wants to talk about Corporate Manslaughter, but change is upon us as the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) has escalated the number of companies referred to crown court with the implication of a hefty fine and/or a possible prison sentence.
The Corporate Manslaughter Act was passed in 2007 after 10 years of campaigning by safety groups to make it easier to tackle companies when the failure of senior management within a company leads to a death.
The Act covers a multitude of sins but make no mistake, if found guilty could see a director or directors imprison and the company heavily fined.
Chairman of SM UK Steve MacDonald, The UK’s No.1 Specialist in Commercial Vehicle Safety Solutions. said, “With TfL giving fleet managers so little time to fit the correct safety equipment that is both certified and type approved for the purpose of DVS, I suspect fleet managers may be tempted to use grey imports [equipment that is not fit for purpose] and have it fitted and signed off by a fitter that has no clear understanding as to how to correctly fit the safety systems or the consequence of signing off the system as safe which now forms part of the DVS permit”.
Equipment such as cameras, radar, sensors and recording equipment must be certified, and type approved and fit for purpose which is why at SM UK we only fit Brigade Electronics.
‘Most AI Cameras are not the panacea of all blindspots and do not work under 15 lux which effectively means that they are pretty much useless at night… they also need regular cleaning as again they do not work if their view is impeded and therefore are not fit for purpose, unlike the radar predict which works in all weather conditions and irrespective of what time of the day the vehicle is on the move’
MacDonald went on to say, “In essence, if the equipment fails and a person is killed because the equipment that should have alerted the driver failed to inform the driver that a vulnerable road user (cyclist) entered a blind spot… then it is likely that the driver as well as the company would face a corporate manslaughter charge”.
TfL safety risks
With Transport for London demanding fleet managers install new safety equipment on Heavy Goods Vehicles before October 2024, the number 1 specialist in commercial vehicle safety solutions SMUK is concerned many firms could cut corners with such little time available.
Under the Act, ‘a company commits an offence if the way in which its activities are managed caused a person’s death and if found guilty could amount to a gross breach of the relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the dead person’… So for example if a HGV manager cuts corners by having equipment fitted that is not fit for purpose, doesn’t have the correct UK certification or is not type approved either due to time constraints or to save money then should this practice lead to a death it is likely that the management team could well find themselves charged with Corporate Manslaughter.
Why is this? The Act builds on the existing duty of care legislation and aims to complement it rather than add to it. But unlike other health and safety laws, a charge under this Act is considered as a serious matter.
So what exactly is a fleet manager’s duty of care? This can be a moot point, but a person charged with this offence will have to explicitly evidence that they took the time and have the systems in place to back up their statement that they ensure drivers, and their vehicle were deemed to be safe before they left the premise as well as on the road.
Each case, of course, will be different and taken on its merits, but a jury will be directed by a judge to consider whether the organisation failed to comply with any health and safety regulation that relates to the alleged breach and how detrimental the extent of that failing was.
Health and safety at work is a wide subject. It covers areas such as loading and unloading at the employer’s premises as well as safety on the road.
In the case of AJ Haulage, 28 June 2013, two former partners were sentenced to a combined period of 6.5 years.
In sentencing the pair, the Judge said, “heavy lorries pose a very real threat to other road users and that threat was substantially increased by the way you ran your haulage business”.
If a company is charged under the Act, it is the senior management, not the drivers who will face court proceedings and will potentially receive a hefty fine and a custodial sentence. Senior management is defined as the people who play significant roles in the making of decisions about how the company is managed.
Steve MacDonald states: “The fact that non-approved equipment is even available indicates wider issues to address within the industry. Safety groups must continue pressing for tighter regulations around manufacturing and distribution”.
Charlotte Le Maire from LMP Legal, said: “The offenses of corporate manslaughter and gross negligence manslaughter, which can trigger individual prosecutions and prison time, are pursued now with greater vigour than ever before. For any company that chooses to utilise telematics systems in their vehicles, it is imperative that they ensure those systems are completely reliable, or else they open themselves up to potentially devastating consequences. Managers and directors must recognise that the choices they make surrounding their fleet operations are among the weightiest decisions of their entire careers, impacting not just the safety of other road users but also their own personal freedom and lives. The gravity of fleet operations can affect the whole company.”
Emily Hardy, UK Marketing Manager, Brigade Electronics UK Ltd, said: “Corporate manslaughter laws hold businesses accountable for protecting the public and their drivers. Skilled commercial drivers rely on properly installed, durable safety devices to reduce risk and work safely. DVS specifications now emphasise both quality products and professional installation, recognising that even the best equipment fails when improperly fitted.”
For now, the fate of the company and its directors’ decisions could have dia-consequences and serves as a warning and hopeful motivate us all to uphold the highest safety standards, even when time constraints or profit is tight.
Note to editors:
Chairman of SM UK, Steve MacDonald (pictured above) who is the founder of SM UK the UK’s leading commercial fleet safety specialist.