The case is against Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings and its managing director Peter Eaton and is the first to be heard in the UK under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.
The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 is a landmark in law. For the first time, companies and organisations can be found guilty of corporate manslaughter as a result of serious management failures resulting in a gross breach of a duty of care.
The Act, which came into force on 6 April 2008, clarifies the criminal liabilities of companies including large organisations where serious failures in the management of health and safety result in a fatality.
Prosecutions will be of the corporate body and not individuals, but the liability of directors, board members or other individuals under health and safety law or general criminal law, will be unaffected. And the corporate body itself and individuals can still be prosecuted for separate health and safety offences.
The case centres on the death of Alexander Wright, who was employed by Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings as a junior geologist.
Mr Wright was taking soil samples from inside a pit near Stroud, Gloucestershire, which had been excavated as part of a site survey when the sides of the pit collapsed, crushing the 27-year-old.
A jury at Winchester Crown Court found the company guilty of failure to ensure the safety of Mr Wright. Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings has denied unlawfully killing Mr Wright in the incident in September 2008 and has said it is considering whether to appeal against the verdict. The company is due to be sentenced today and potentially faces an unlimited fine.
The Sentencing Guidlines Council has recommended that the appropriate fine following conviction for corporate manslaughter will seldom be less than £500,00 and may even amount to millions of pounds.
What should you be doing?
There are several other prosecutions under the 2007 Act which are awaiting the outcome of the Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings case before proceeding.
Companies and organisations should keep their health and safety management systems under review, in particular, the way in which their activities are managed and organised by senior management. Seaham Safety Services Ltd can provide support and guidance to assist in the development of your health and safety management system.
Contact us to find about our health and safety support services.