First Corporate Manslaughter Trial

08 Mar 2011

Cotswold Geotechnical (Holdings) Limited is the first company to be found guilty under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.

Initially, a Director of the Company was also charged with gross negligence manslaughter; however, the case against him was permanently stayed due to ill health.

The case resulted from the death of an employee in September 2008, who was killed whilst taking soil samples from the bottom of a 3.5 metre trial pit at a building site. The Court heard that the walls of the trial pit were not supported and the soil collapsed in on the employee.

The Prosecution stated that the Company had failed to take all reasonably practicable steps to protect the health and safety of its employees. Notably, it had ignored well-recognised industry advice which prohibited entry to pits more than 1.2 metres deep. The Company had also left the employee unsupervised and alone on the site at the time of his death.

This case highlights the importance of having proper health and safety procedures in place to protect your employees and contractors. In this case, the Company was not able to produce documentation to show that it had taken all reasonable steps to protect its employees. It had fundamentally failed to protect its employee.

Some commentators argue that the Act was not designed to prosecute smaller businesses; however, the message from this case is clear. No Company will be exempt from prosecution and all should ensure that they make every reasonable step to protect their employees’ health and safety.

Employers should ensure that they have adequate health and safety procedures in place, setting out what is expected of employees. Employees should receive regular training and updates on health and safety issues. Where risks are posed, employers will need to make sure adequate risk assessments are carried out, if necessary, by a qualified professional.