Despite objections from certain camps, government backing for more stringent punishments in order to reduce the level of workplace death and injury (“Queen’s speech heralds corporate manslaughter bill”, 26 November, page 15) is largely matched by the corporate world’s level of concern.
The construction industry has come under increasing scrutiny for rising fatality levels. The public requires companies to be accountable for their actions and it is only right that the proposed reforms to involuntary manslaughter legislation allow for fines and imprisonment where appropriate.
Companies should expect severe penalties if management failure is the cause of an individual’s death, regardless of the size of the business, even if it forces companies to cease trading and leads to directors being disqualified or imprisoned for their actions.
Under the guidelines of the new legislation, HSE inspectors will be investigating all workplace deaths with a view to corporate killing charges. And this is not confined to the construction site - with about 30% of the 3500 annual road deaths attributable to the workplace, prosecution levels under the Health and Safety at Work Act could be significant.
If all this sounds horrifying, we should remember that the best form of defence is to manage health and safety effectively. This means having competent support, measuring performance and benchmarking against others. Institutional investors are now becoming increasingly aware of the importance of managing safety as a key element of corporate risk management. There is tangible evidence to show that H&S management performance is linked, through corporate risk management strategy, to overall business performance. Companies with effective health and safety management are proven to be more profitable, so as an industry we should be embracing the reforms.
Graham Taylor, director, Turner & Townsend