Fleet News

Caring fleets safe from ‘killing’ law

Fleets practising risk management will almost certainly be safe from prosecution under the long-awaited Corporate Manslaughter Bill, which received its first reading in the House of Commons last week.

The Bill will create a law that makes firms, rather than individuals, liable for deaths occurring in the workplace when duty of care has been breached.

Over several years, there has been lots of discussion in the industry about just how the proposed law could affect fleet managers, and whether anybody could end up in jail as a result of a company car driver dying while out at work.

However, due to its controversial nature in that it originally was intended to find blame within a company for a fatality, the Bill has had a tortured birth and critics say that it is now so watered down that it may prove ineffectual. In fleet terms, the new Bill could have fewer teeth than the current health and safety laws.

Lyons Davidson solicitor David Faithful said: ‘The Bill has been watered down – nobody is going inside. If a fleet manager is doing any sort of decent risk management, the chance of getting prosecuted is almost non-existent.

‘Having said that, if you’re going to do risk management, then make sure you do it right.

Prosecutors are always going to go after easier targets.’

Faithful believes that fleets can expect attention from the police over health and safety breaches though, illustrated by the Metropolitan Police’s recent campaign to visit the employers of badly behaving drivers and the case of a firm fined £54,000 for a driver who died at the wheel after working long hours (Fleet News, July 6).

He said: ‘Health and safety legislation is the more likely route for prosecution. It’s easier to prosecute under health and safety and succeed against those who aren’t managing risk.’

RoSPA occupational safety adviser Roger Bibbings added: ‘While corporate manslaughter prosecutions will be limited to cases where standards had fallen far below what might have been reasonably expected, directors should not forget that other workplace deaths due to failures in duties of care will still be prosecuted under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

‘Now is the time for all organisations to check out their arrangements.’

Confederation of British Industry deputy director-general John Cridland welcomed the Bill, but warned: ‘Parliamentarians must ensure they produce legislation which achieves a safer society without encumbering employers with unreasonable burdens.’

The Bill is likely to get a second reading in October and become law in the following months.

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