28 September 2018

Difficult to apply corporate manslaughter law fails to bring companies to account for poor road safety

Nobody has been sent to jail, or even prosecuted, for contributing to an avoidable work-related driving death under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act due to the law being difficult to apply, it is claimed.

However, say experts, a prosecution under the legislation would "send a message" to businesses that at-work driving should have a far greater safety focus in the corporate sector than currently.

A decade on from the law being introduced, Tony Greenidge, IAM RoadSmart business development director, said: "Many in the transport and driver risk management arena welcomed the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act legislation when it was introduced, believing it would make it easier to hold organisations more closely to account for the wellbeing and safety of those engaged in driving for work, with safety benefits for other road-users."

He continued: "A few years ago the fleet industry was buzzing with experts warning companies that if they didn't implement proper, robust workplace driving policies to safeguard the public and the workforce, they would all be going to jail. It was going to be transformational for road safety.

"Yet no company car driver or senior manager involved in an avoidable death has been anywhere near a prosecution. It seems the legislation has proved difficult to apply."

IAM RoadSmart's commercial division has published a whitepaper, 'The Corporate Manslaughter Act, Ten Years On', which summarises some of the early convictions under the Act - none of which relate to driving-at-work.

The IAM RoadSmart analysis concludes that, despite estimates that "more than a quarter" of "all road incidents" involve someone driving, riding or using the road for work, making it the UK's most dangerous work-related activity, "The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which should be taking a lead with the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act, is not fully engaged with it. We want to see the driving seat seen much more firmly as a place of work, with all that would entail under health and safety legislation".

Professor Steve Tombs, of the Open University, said in the whitepaper that corporate manslaughter was "too far down the pecking order" and had no dedicated team at the HSE.

He said: "It has not done what it was designed to do; bring to account large companies. Where the law falls down is in its ability to identify fault in one central headquarters location or with the senior executive. You can always pin it down to the individual man or woman driving. But showing 'he or she was failing to operate in a way that was required by the company' is much harder."

Neil Greig, director of policy and research of IAM RoadSmart added: "If a company director forced someone to drive too many hours in the day, or employed someone who had been banned (from driving) and there was a crash resulting in a fatality, a prosecution would help send a message to businesses that a lot more care needs to be taken in this area."