Employers to face prison if found negligent for fatal accidents at work

Author: Jane Penman

New rules are being introduced to hold companies responsible for fatal accidents in the workplace to account.

Anyone in England and Wales, aged 18 or over, who is sentenced on or after the 1st November this year will be subject to the new Definitive Guideline for manslaughter offences. Regardless of the date the offence was committed, the new rules will apply. If found guilty, employers liable for the most serious of health and safety breaches can face up to 18 years in prison.

The guidelines, which have been issued by the Sentencing Council, covers four distinct types of manslaughter, the most serious of which for accidents at work is gross negligence manslaughter. Employers are culpable of this when they fail in their duty of care, resulting in the death of an employee due to a health and safety breach which amounts to a criminal act or omission, whether in a workplace or domestic setting. 

Jane Penman, a Partner in Russell & Russell’s personal injury department, says: “Despite the amount of health and safety legislation already in place, we’re still seeing people come to us as a result of a family member suffering a fatal accident at work. Clearly, this is unacceptable.

“Employers who are found to have deliberately flouted the law in order to make more money or reduce costs should face the full force of the law. Hopefully the new guidelines will make employers think twice about cutting corners.

“It’s not just the victims themselves who suffer. For the families of those killed in a workplace accident, the reality of losing a loved one is bad enough, but the situation is exacerbated further because a criminal case normally has to take place before the civil case can be finalised. This results in a lengthy, drawn out process, making matters worse for the families who are grieving and trying to come to terms with their loss.

“Of course, accidents at work of any nature are always difficult for those affected, especially when more serious injuries are incurred. While someone may not die as a consequence of their accident, the injuries they sustain can be life changing. We’re acting on behalf of a number of clients who are claiming against employers who have shown a blatant disregard for ensuring health and safety standards are followed and maintained. In the 21st Century, and with all the legislation in place, this shouldn’t still be happening.”

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