A fatal road traffic accident involving an at-work driver should act as a salient reminder to fleets to ‘get their house in order’.
That’s the message from Mansfield-based Fleet Risk Consultants (FRC), which recently came to the aid of a company facing a potential charge of Corporate Manslaughter.
The driver had been involved in an incident where another person was killed and was eventually successfully prosecuted for causing death by careless driving.
However, while the police were building their case against the individual, his employer also became the subject of the investigation.
Nigel Grainger, FRC principal consultant, said: “The police were quick to not only investigate the driver, but to also look at what part the company may have played.”
If convicted of a corporate manslaughter offence, the company faces the prospect of an unlimited fine, while further penalties could be imposed under health and safety legislation.
The only corporate manslaughter case in the country to date involves Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings, which has been adjourned until 24 January 2011.
However, Grainger says the experience of his client proves the police will try and pursue a corporate manslaughter charge.
He said: “Luckily, we were able to show the police that the company had a robust road risk policy which we had written for them.”
All drivers are provided with a copy and have to sign for it and licences are checked every six months.
“We were also able to show that disciplinary action had also been brought against individuals for their driving which showed how serious the company took road risk,” added Grainger.
“As soon as the police were shown our policies and procedures they stopped pursuing the company.”
Despite this near miss, experts believe corporate manslaughter cases will be rare. Prosecutors are much more like to opt for the Health and Safety at Work Act because there is greater likelihood of success.
Andrew Sanderson, associate at Hammonds LLP, said: “It’s difficult to show there was a collective failure rather than an individual failure – there’s a lack of will to prosecute under corporate manslaughter.”
Grey drivers remain an organisation’s greatest risk because internal processes controlling their activities are less robust than those for the company vehicle fleet.
And around 20% of grey fleet drivers are thought to have no business insurance.
Scott Ingham, director at Matrix Global Services, speaking at a Hammonds roundtable chaired by Fleet News, said: “One company was recently fined £9 million when a grey fleet driver who was not insured for business caused a death. For a lot of companies, the cost could be a business-ending event.”