Company directors and senior managers will find themselves under increasing scrutiny if work-related deaths happen as a result of gross corporate failures, following implementation of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act on Sunday (April 6).
Ahead of the Act’s introduction, fleet experts and safety organisations have been queuing to advise organisations to ensure they have in place robust policies and procedures to protect themselves against prosecution in the event of one of their at-work drivers being involved in a fatal road crash.
It is clear that the full weight of criminal law will be brought to bear on organisations in which standards have fallen far below what could have been reasonably expected, says the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.
Meanwhile, Masterlease says that with juries involved in corporate manslaughter and corporate homicide cases being asked to consider the ‘attitude’ of an organisation towards risk, fleet and HR managers must review practice and policy as they can no longer take a reactive approach to health and safety.
Although individuals will not be liable under the new law, prosecutions for corporate manslaughter (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland) and corporate homicide (in Scotland) will look into management systems and practices across organisations.
Roger Bibbings, RoSPA’s occupational safety adviser, said: “If anyone dies as a result of gross corporate failings, directors who do not take safety seriously enough will find themselves in the firing line. Those organisations that have not assured themselves that they have proper corporate governance of safety in place need to take action.”
An organisation found guilty of the new offence will be liable to an unlimited fine, possibly up to 10% of annual turnover averaged over the previous three years. A publicity order could be imposed and a court may also, through a remedial order, require an organisation to take steps to address the failures behind the death.
Gavin Jones, accident and rental service manager at Masterlease, said: “It is more important than ever that health and safety moves up the priority lists of all employers and becomes a part of the company culture.
“Companies that have a less stringent approach to fleet safety could find themselves facing serious charges if a driver is involved in a fatal road accident.”
Meanwhile, a surge in businesses taking steps to reduce their risk exposure in the light of the Act has been reported by fleet management company Arval.
Last October research by the company demonstrated that fleets were failing to implement at-work driving road safety measures on employees using their own cars on business.
Now, follow up research has highlighted that Arval’s message is getting through and some businesses seem to be taking steps to reduce their risk.
The new findings show that since the original ‘grey fleet’ research 46% of respondents are currently reviewing their fleet duty of care, and a further 22% have already completed a review. Of these 9% have not only completed a review but have already implemented the necessary changes.
The primary area of concern for own vehicle business driving was insurance and the new research shows that some companies have responded to this as 6% more businesses are now checking that drivers of non-company vehicles driven on company business have the correct insurance. There have also been improvements with regards to MoT certificate checking and vehicle service checks.
Meanwhile, RoadSafe, the automotive industry-backed road safety organisation, says HR directors have a key role to play in corporate decision-making, but when it comes to actually managing fleets, safety concerns do not always translate into initiatives to improve road safety.
It made the claim following research by Bosch into the uptake by fleets of electronic stability control. Thirty per cent of respondents reported that HR directors had a significant involvement in fleet management but, it seems, that although many believe it is important to ensure safe working conditions for employees by providing a safe vehicle, some are yet to take action.
RoadSafe’s Caroline Scurr said: “Whilst we are delighted to see that many fleets are taking their driving for work responsibilities seriously, there are still some managers sticking their heads in the sand. We encourage HR directors and other decision-makers who are yet to acknowledge the risks to take action now.”