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Corporate manslaughter: One year on

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Health & safetyThe introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter Act almost a year ago has meant that organisations have had to change their duty of care requirements in order to protect an employee’s health, safety and wellbeing. Matthew Judge examines the implications faced by HR professionals over the last 12 months.


The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Acts came to force in April 2008, bringing the change that the Labour government had promised when it stepped into 10 Downing Street. These laws posed significant challenges to all organisations as all existing health and safety policies needed to be re-evaluated and enforced.

“To avoid corporate manslaughter suits, it is imperative that each organisation sets out health and safety procedures to be included within the travel policy.”

The change was felt especially within large organisations responsible for a significant number of employees travelling (both domestically and internationally) on corporate business. Travel policies could no longer simply constitute the specifying of the cheapest possible airlines and preferred hotel chains, but had to incorporate safety and security measures, ensuring that proper risk assessment and mitigation is carried out prior to business trips.

It is in the best interest of both the organisation and its employees to take every reasonable precaution to ensure the health, safety and welfare of everyone affected by their activities.

Real risk

You don’t have to go back too far in time to find incidents that had the potential to place employees in severe risk. Incidents such as the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Pakistan, the Bangkok airport closures and the conflict in the Middle East are all examples of situations that can cause disruption to a business trip and place vital assets in grave danger. If an employee should die in one of these situations, a corporate manslaughter case would be considered.

To avoid corporate manslaughter suits and to keep employees safe, it is imperative that each organisation sets out health and safety procedures to be included within the travel policy. This protects the security of the employee and the business, proving that the appropriate duty of care has been taken. To achieve this, a travel risk management programme will need to be introduced that covers policy, training, traveller tracking and support.

This programme will ensure that travel policies are correctly set so that employees are aware of (and understand) them. Should circumstances change whilst an employee is travelling, the situation can be assessed so that advice and the appropriate level of assistance can be quickly delivered in order to avoid an incident (whether it be potentially fatal or not).

Log keeping

Crucially, this process needs to be administered and maintained in a manner that allows organisations to produce an auditable log of events for each and every employee’s trip. It will be this log that will be called upon as evidence to mount a legal defence, should a prosecution be brought.

With the widespread economic crisis, organisations are looking further afield for more business. It is therefore imperative that companies take proper precautions when preparing for a business trip to a new destination. The awareness of corporate travel policies and travel plans needs to be understood from board level down. More importantly the HR managers need to know which employees are out of the office travelling on corporate business and when. To enable full transparency of travel plans, web-based solutions are a good place to start for a thorough safety and security solution.

“HR managers need to know which employees are out of the office travelling on corporate business and when.”

The law does not only apply to international business travel. The snowy conditions in the UK at the beginning of February this year meant that employees could have been seriously affected by treacherous driving conditions. In the unfortunate event that there had been a snow-related death on the road whilst an employee was in his or her employer’s care, a corporate manslaughter suit could be brought against the employer.

The Corporate Manslaughter Act has encouraged and insisted upon the tightening of existing policies and ensures that organisations pay more attention to employee safety, though we do occasionally find that there are still companies who operate with the ‘it won’t happen to me’ attitude.

Businesses and individuals with such an approach will be the ones who will be eventually caught out. My advice is to review the existing travel policy and begin to take the appropriate measures to ensure that a duty of care is instilled, maintained and demonstrable throughout the entire organisation.


Matthew Judge is director of The Anvil Group.

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