One of the country’s leading barristers, a specialist in health and safety law and regulatory crime, has warned fleets that they will be vigorously investigated by the police under the new Corporate Manslaughter Act, which came into force in April.
“Fleets are a relatively easy target…at-work road deaths will be investigated much more aggressively by the police,” warned Gerard Forlin, a barrister at Gray’s Inn Square, London.
“Before April, it was virtually impossible to prosecute a large corporation for manslaughter, but things have arguably changed dramatically.”
The first organisations are already being investigated under the new Act following at-work deaths, although none involve a death caused by or of an at-work driver.
Mr Forlin advised fleet managers at the annual GE Future of Fleet conference that until these cases have concluded and any subsequent appeals heard, it is impossible to tell what approach judges will take to those organisations found guilty of corporate manslaughter.
However, what is clear is that sentences will be harsh compared to historical benchmarks.
For any fleet manager finding it difficult to get board approval for new policies such as compulsory and frequent licence checks or random drug and alcohol testing of drivers, need to highlight to the management team that they may now risk being fined up to 10% of total worldwide turnover.
“That’s not profit, that’s total turnover,” points out Mr Forlin.
The sentencing guidelines will be published early in 2009, but as the expert points out, the indications are that the authorities are taking this more seriously and will press for tough sentences.
“There is no doubt, the sentences are going up.”
In addition, a guilty company may be forced to advertise its failings in the form of TV or press adverts, which will highlight that it has been found guilty of corporate manslaughter.
The judge may also order the organisation to undertake remedial actions following a conviction
“The damage to company image and reputation will now be much more substantial,” warned Mr Forlin.
The barrister suggests that companies must have adequate procedures and checks in place to manage risk.
“If you have good systems in place that will be worth its weight in gold – you must have robust systems that work in place,” he said.
This is especially important for fleets, because their drivers are more likely than almost any other employee to be involved in a fatality during their working day.
“The fleet is particularly vulnerable,” warned Mr Forlin.
“The police are now under a duty to investigate deaths under this Act, and it will be relatively quicker, easier and more cost effective for them to investigate and prosecute organisations involved in work-related road deaths, such as fleets.”