Corporate Manslaughter fine highlights individual liabilities

A Company and two individuals have been convicted in connection with a death at work, highlighting how collective failures can lead to both corporate and personal liability.

A building firm pleaded guilty to Corporate Manslaughter this month in connection with a fatal accident at its construction site.

The accident involved a wall that fell on a worker whilst he was digging a trench that exposed foundations. The wall was not bonded to its foundations, there was no method statement or risk assessment and no supports or buttresses were installed.

In addition to prosecuting the Company, the CPS brought charges against two workers, the Managing Director and the Project Manager.  The former, in particular, was connected to the events of the accident as he had made the decision to dig the foundations lower and failed to heed advice that underpinning might be required.

The convictions were for breaches of the parties’ duties under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations to ensure that excavations and structures do not pose a danger to any person.  These regulations have recently been reformed and have now become even stricter in imposing duties on all parties within construction work and more details can be found here.

Both were sentenced to six-month prison sentences, suspended for two years. The MD was also fined £25,000 and ordered to pay costs of £7,500, to be paid in six, monthly instalments. The Court has the discretion to disqualify a director for up to 15 years after a Health & Safety conviction; on this occasion, the Judge felt that it was not necessary, proportionate or just to do so.

The Company was fined £200,000, reflecting a very significant fine given its apparently limited means.

The facts of this case reinforce the risks to ‘hands on’ directors, given the ease with which any failure can be established as creating a causal link with an incident. Criminal culpability for directors and managers applies where they can be proven to have consented, turned a blind eye or neglected to address a breach.

This also reinforces the ease with which corporate manslaughter can be demonstrated in similar circumstances, because director-level failures are almost certain to establish the senior management failings required to make out the offence.

If you have any questions about the article, or would like more information, please contact a member of our specialist team below.

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

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Paul Matthews

Partner - Head of Regulatory (Yorkshire and North East)

I am a Partner in the Regulatory team and a corporate defence specialist who provides up-front regulatory compliance advice and representation to businesses and senior managers in relation to investigations and prosecutions by regulatory bodies.

Steffan Groch

Partner and Head of Regulatory - Head of Sectors

I head up DWF's national Regulatory team as well as leading the firm’s ‘go to market’ sector expertise. I am also Chair of the UK Health and Safety Lawyers Association.