Corporate Manslaughter reaches Northern Ireland – implications for the Republic of Ireland?
On 8th May 2012 Northern Ireland saw the first conviction under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.
JMW Farm Limited pleaded guilty at Belfast Crown Court in respect of the death of Robert Wilson a forty five year old employee who was killed at work on 15th November 2010.
Mr Wilson died when he was struck by metal bin which fell off a fork lift truck that was being driven by Mark Wright one of the company directors. An investigation by the HSE NI and the Police Service of Northern Ireland revealed that the bin had not been attached to or integrated with the FLT which was being used as a replacement for a truck which had been sent for servicing.
The position of the forks on the replacement truck did not correspond with the sleeves of the bin which was therefore unstable.
During the sentencing hearing the Recorder of Belfast, His Honour Judge Burgess, said:
“Yet again the Court is faced with an incident where common sense would have shown that a simple, reasonable and effective solution would have been available to prevent this tragedy”.
Having considered all the relevant factors, the judge imposed a record fine of £187,500.00 (approximately €230,000). When passing sentence the Recorder said that offences of corporate manslaughter reflect a gross duty of care which he defined as a “high and totally unacceptable breach in circumstances where the risks involved were high with the more than foreseeable likelihood of serious injury or death following if the proper steps were not taken”.
The substantial fine serves two very important purposes. It reflects the culpability of JMW Farms Limited but, as the judge noted, it also sends “a message to all employers that there duty to their employees is daily and constant and any failure to discharge that duty will be met with condign punishment”.
The Republic of Ireland does not have similar corporate manslaughter legislation. This might change in the coming months as the Corporate Manslaughter Bill 2011 is currently being considered by the Irish Parliament. In 2011 Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings Limited was the first company to be convicted under the UK legislation and a second prosecution in England is due to start in June 2012. Along with the developments in England the case against JMW Farm Limited may increase the pressure on the Irish authorities to introduce similar legislation in Ireland.
In any event, all employers in Ireland have a daily duty to protect the safety, health and welfare of their employees and others. With fines of up to €3 million and potential jail sentences of 2 years all Irish companies and their directors know the consequences for failing to comply with their obligations.
Health and safety must be the primary concern for all employers and directors. They need to be made aware of their obligations so that they can lead from the top. Providing legal briefings on health and safety legislation is one way that businesses can ensure they maintain their focus on how they prevent accidents and protect their workforce.