Dillington House Health and Safety Law Update seminar, Tuesday November 25. For immediate release.
COUNCIL BOSSES TO FACE MANSLAUGHTER CHARGES?
(Dillington House seminar to update the public sector on the new Health and Safety law.)
A Health and Safety circular drops on the desk. Busy boss puts it aside to read later. Perhaps he forgets or puts it off...
He could be in deep trouble because a new law makes it far easier to convict the negligent employer of corporate manslaughter.
Already the police are investigating scores of work-related deaths under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act where there has been a gross failing throughout the organisation in the management of health and safety with fatal consequences.
Ten years ago top law firm Eversheds employed four people nationally looking after Health and Safety issues. Today it is 28.
“Over the last decade there has been a fundamental shift in the way Health and Safety laws are enforced and it now as acute for the public as private sector,” says Eversheds’ regulatory group Partner Kevin Elliott, one of the country’s leading specialists on the subject.
“It is now going to be far easier to convict for manslaughter. It’s there on the statute book and very much being pursued by the police.”
Kevin will lead an important one-day seminar at Dillington House, Ilminster, Somerset on Tuesday 25th November: The Health and Safety Law Update, for the H&S practitioner working in the public sector.
It is the tenth anniversary of what has become a major date in the diary of those who need to be keep abreast of latest H&S developments.
“One might think councils are low risk, but how much driving do their staff do for instance? All organisations are affected by this. Are you asking for an unreasonable amount from your staff in too little time? People are entitled to come to work safely and go home safely is my take on it,” Kevin adds.
Kevin, who is currently working on several major cases including the “Dreamspace” inflatable artwork double fatality in Co Durham, the Morecambe Bay helicopter crash and the Potters Bar rail disaster, adds:
“Some may think it is a dry subject but I can assure you it is anything but and we will be using real life cases to illustrate the issues facing employers and how the law is supplied and enforced in practice.
“The Update is a very real and valuable resource and excellent value. Dillington has done a fine and vital job for a decade hosting this event.”
Dillington House general manager Wayne Bennett said: "Health and Safety is a cultural issue for organisations whether in the public or private sectors and the significant drop in workplace accidents and fatalities is evidence of the shift in attitudes and practice.
"That said, there is still nonsense perpetuated in the interpretation and implementation of the law and the press and media are always keen to peddle these instances which ultimately harm the real progress that has been made.
"I know the Health & Safety Executive is keen to bring a high degree of common sense to the subject and this seminar explores the practical boundaries from a legal perspective. As the ‘responsible person’ at Dillington I have always found these seminars hugely illuminating and informative."
Carol Crocker, Dillington's Operations Manager said: "We enjoy this day immensely and feel it is a must for continuing professional development for H&S practitioners. It is an important update on current law and case law and provides an insight into issues likely to appear on the horizon.
"Eversheds is the largest law firm in the UK and their speakers deliver an interesting and entertaining programme. There are plenty of opportunities to ask questions and there are often interactive sessions to stimulate minds.
Feedback from delegates is always positive and of course there are the delights of simply being at Dillington!"
A few delegate tickets are still available at £195+VAT, which covers all seminar papers, lunch and refreshments.
For interviews, photographs or press tickets please contact:
Wayne Bennett, Carol Crocker or Jacinta Elliott at Dillington House:
Tel: 01460 52427 or
NOTE for EDITORS:
Dillington House is Somerset County Council’s residential centre for professional development, adult education and the arts. Founded in 1949, it has been offering lifelong learning opportunities for over fifty years. The arts play an important role in creating the unique ambience which is Dillington. Although Dillington House is wholly part of Somerset County Council it operates without public subsidy and is responsible for meeting all of its costs.?The Main House dates back to the 16th century and is one of the most beautiful houses in Somerset and features in Simon Jenkins’ book England’s 1000 Best Houses.
The accommodation is in a range of en-suite bedrooms, that are located in the House or the Mews. Dillington House is neither a hotel, college nor simply a conference centre. It is uniquely something special at which everything and anything is possible. Standards of service and accommodation are very high and Dillington remains the only establishment to have been awarded 5-stars by the English Tourism Council under their “Campus” quality assessment scheme.
Issued by prone www.prone.biz 0208 1333016 or 0795 6909415
Changing Landscapes : Continued Challenges to Local Authorities ( A feature for immediate use)
By Kevin Elliott, Partner, Eversheds
An overview of Health and Safety in 2008
In October 2007, the Institute of Directors published authoritative guidance explaining how Directors of Private and Public Organisations should lead Health and Safety. At the time, this was seen as a pro-active step to improve the engagement of senior persons within organisations.
Over the following 12 months this engagement has been reinforced with 2 new pieces of legislation that give real teeth to regulators investigating work related accidents.
Chronologically the first, headline grabbing change was the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, which came into force on 6 April 2008.
The new Act provides that an organisation will be guilty of corporate manslaughter if an organisational or gross management failing causes a person's death. An organisation is guilty of the offence of corporate manslaughter if the way in which its activities are managed or organised by its senior managers:
causes a person’s death, and
amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased.
A Local Authority or NHS Trust will constitute an organisation.
The offence comprises two elements. The first is that a management failure must have caused the death. Such failure must be more than a minimal contribution to the death and there must be no break in the chain of causation. However, the management failure does not need to be the sole cause of the death.
The second element relates to the 'relevant duty of care' which the organisation owed to the deceased. Such a duty can arise from the organisation's role as employer, occupier, supplier, maintainer, or keeper of any plant, vehicle or other thing. This duty of care is sufficiently wide to encompass most activities that a local authority engages in.
Once the duty of care has been made out, the prosecution must demonstrate gross breach of that duty. Such a failure is defined as conduct which 'falls far below what can reasonably be expected of the organisation in the circumstances'.
The new Act requires a consideration of the organisation's compliance with health and safety legislation. Rather than consider the knowledge and motives of senior managers, the risk of death from any failure to comply with legislation will be evaluated in the first instance.
Attention will then be given to the attitudes, systems, policies and accepted practices within the organisation that may encourage or tolerate non-compliance with the legislation in order to ascertain how serious the failure was.
Of course, when the consequences of a breach are before a jury, the magnitude of a breach can appear exaggerated compared to the apparent risk taken. Failures may appear far worse in hindsight than they actually were.
Our recent experience of work related fatalities since April 2008 is that the Police are scrutinising closely the incidents to see if there is any evidence of corporate manslaughter.
HEALTH AND SAFETY (OFFENCES) ACT 2008
On 16 October 2008 this new Act received Royal Assent. Unlike Corporate Manslaughter, this legislation has received very little media attention. This is surprising as in reality it may have more profound implications to Local Authorities than the Manslaughter legislation.
The new Act introduces much tougher penalties for most existing health and safety offences. In particular, many more offences will attract the threat of long term imprisonment for individuals involved in an organisation’s breach of health and safety law.
There are two main changes. The first is to increase the existing maximum fine that Magistrates can impose from £5,000 for a breach of a health and safety regulation to £20,000.
The second, more concerning change is that a prison sentence will be an option for most health and safety offences in the Magistrates or Crown Court. Previously, only one health and safety offence could lead to a potential prison sentence for an individual. However, under the new Act, all offences (with only 4 minor exceptions) will potentially attract a prison sentence from the Magistrates’ or the Crown Court.
The reassurance given is that prison will be reserved for the most serious cases. These will include cases where;
serious neglect leads to major injury or a death
there has been reckless disregard for health and safety requirements and/or the risk of harm
repeated breaches which cause significant risks to occur or where there has been persistent and significant non compliance
false information, in regard to enforcement of health and safety, is wilfully supplied by an individual
there have been serious risks that have been deliberately created to increase profit.
Uncertainty remains on how this will ‘play out’ in practice and there is no clear guidance as to which individuals in a company will be most at risk of imprisonment. This confusion will likely result in more individuals being prosecuted and appearing before Courts facing a real threat of serving time . Armed with the threat of prison sentences, we can expect more in depth HSE and Police investigations leading to more intrusion into individuals’ lives.
INTERACTION OF THE TWO NEW PIECES OF LEGISLATION
While imprisonment is not a penalty under the Corporate Manslaughter legislation, prosecutions for traditional health and safety charges can be brought alongside prosecutions under the Corporate Manslaughter Act. This leaves open the possibility of a Local Authority being convicted of Corporate Manslaughter and an individual being convicted for a related health and safety offence and subsequently imprisoned. To the untrained eye this will appear as if the individual has been imprisoned for corporate manslaughter.
THE WAY FORWARD
The whole underlying ethos of the new laws is to emphasise the importance of compliance with existing health and safety law and guidance. Statements in policy documents need to be clearly evidenced in practice and not exceed legal thresholds.
Local authorities need to spend time carefully reviewing health and safety policies, systems and accepted practices now. Senior managers need to appraise themselves of any tolerated but unsafe habits that may have permeated the working environment and take action to root these out - or face censure of the gravest type.
*Kevin Elliott, a partner in leading local authority legal advisers Eversheds' regulatory team, is one of the country's foremost authorities on Health and Safety Law.
For more information call prone on 07956 909415
or Kevin Elliott on 0845 498 4229
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