Lawyers at Glovers solicitors are advising companies to review their Health and Safety strategies, with the imminent Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act, which comes into force on 6th April.
“The Act will create a new offence of corporate manslaughter” says Partner and employment lawyer at Glovers, Sikin Andela. “For the first time, companies and organisations can be convicted, where serious management failures lead to a gross breach of the duty of care towards an employee and causes a person’s death.”
This legislation will make it easier for companies to be prosecuted and impose unlimited fines on them if found guilty of an offence. This means that if an employee’s death is caused by work related stress or depression the employer can be held responsible. The House of Lords has already ruled that a widow should be awarded compensation by her husband’s former employer, after he killed himself due to severe depression caused by a workplace accident.
With workplace stress the second biggest occupational health problem in the UK and the World Health Organisation reporting that depression is the fourth most significant cause of suffering and disability, the possibility of prosecution is a real one.
“The Act does not actually create any new obligations for employers” explains Andela, “but in light of the new serious offence which the Act introduces, employers and senor management personnel should review their Health and Safety policies and procedures regularly and actively ensure they are implemented, through review and improvement.”
A successful example is BT’s “Work Fit – Positive Mentality awareness programme”, which encompasses prevention, intervention and support for mental ill health of its employees. It has cut the company’s medical retirement rate by 80% and 75% of its long term absentees now return to work (compared to the national figure of 20-25%). “Strategies like this one will not only increase productivity and employee health and happiness but avoid potentially damaging legal cases too” adds Andela.
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