Article date: 10 March 2008
The threat of prosecution for corporate manslaughter could be driving risk management in companies, warns Norwich Union, rather than protecting staff against workplace accidents.
And those firms who have a defensive approach towards effective risk management could well be failing to improve measures ahead of the introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.
Phil Grace, liability risk manager for Norwich Union, says: "Businesses implementing risk management strategies to protect themselves from prosecution under new corporate manslaughter legislation may well be going about it the wrong way.
"This is not a proactive approach to risk management. The way to avoid ending up in court is to prevent accidents happening in the first place by ensuring risk management strategies are both adequate and implemented from the outset.
"Employers may be focusing on minimising risks in the workplace as a result of the Act, but it is imperative that firms do not allow the legislation to take their attention away from the non-fatal risks.
"It's important to remember that workplace accidents can happen at any time, in any industry and to anyone. In fact the number of serious, non-fatal accidents far exceeds that of fatal accidents¹. It may be a matter of chance as to whether an accident gives rise to a broken ankle or a fatality. It would be wrong to control safety and risks in the workplace by looking at the potential for a fatal accident - most companies will thankfully have no experience of this to go on.
"Businesses need to go back to basic principles and look at where there might be serious risk issues.
"So, for example, where there is the use of electricity, working at height or the use of fork-lift trucks, examine the potential risk of all work place accidents around each activity, not just those that could lead to a fatality.
"The Corporate Manslaughter Act will provide a new approach to punishment in those circumstances where a work related death has occurred, but companies need to keep the risk of a fatality in proportion and think about how great that risk is and whether one might occur in the business.
"Besides court action, the Act includes penalties for any business that has breached health and safety regulations where a death occurs and these could include having to publicise the circumstances of an accident, the particulars of the offence and the amount fined, thus resulting in damaging, negative publicity for the organisation.
"The business could also be liable for fines of as much as 10% of the firm's annual turnover according to the Sentencing Advisory Panel."
Grace advises businesses to refer to the HSE's² five basic principles to follow when carrying out risk assessments. These include identifying hazards, deciding who might be harmed and how, evaluating the risks and deciding on the necessary precautions, recording and implementing findings, reviewing risk assessments and updating these where necessary.
Grace continues: "Businesses should review good risk management strategies, frequently, in order to protect employees and customers and prevent prosecution should a workplace accident lead to a death. If in doubt, the advice is to consult with risk experts.
"All businesses should be prepared to change their attitude, policies, systems and procedures in accordance with health and safety legislation, incorporate these into the management culture and the overall business philosophy in order to reduce the risk of workplace injuries and prevent accidents that leads to a death.
"The cost of good risk management is far less than the cost of an employee's life or prosecution if a senior manager breaches their duty of care."
For further information visit: www.norwichunion.com/riskmanager
For further information, please contact:
Sam Bramwell at Staniforth on 0161 919 8024/077381 96667 or Sally Leeman at Norwich Union on 01603 684 225/07800 699 670.
Notes to editors:
¹ HSE figures 2006-7
Major (ie fractures, amputations): 28,267
Over three day (ie absence >3 days): 113,083
² HSE Health and Safety Executive
About Norwich Union
Norwich Union is the UK's largest general insurer with a market share of around 15%, with a focus on insurance for individuals and small businesses.
It is a leading provider of life, pensions and investment products and one of the largest financial adviser (FA) providers. FAs provide over 70% of the company's long-term savings business in the UK.
Norwich Union's news releases and a selection of images are available from Aviva's internet press centre at www.aviva.com/media.