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Killing Bill strikes the right balance


DOUBTLESS the main topic of debate in boardrooms up and down the country this week will be the draft Bill to create a new corporate manslaughter law to prosecute companies after fatal accidents.

After eight years of delay it is difficult to argue that the legislation has been sprung on an unsuspecting construction industry.

In fact, the delay has favoured common sense for once, not only because it has given the industry time to come to terms with the impact of a new corporate manslaughter law but because the hard-line proposals first aired have been substantially softened.

Crucially, calls to put directors in the dock have been judiciously ignored.

Such a severe measure threatened more injustice, simply making individual directors the scapegoats for wider company shortcomings.

This proposal was unworkable because nobody in their right mind, including those committed to improving safety, would accept the role of safety director with a prison sentence hanging over the job.The only remarkable thing is that it took eight years to realise this was flawed thinking.

What is clear to all is that reform is long overdue.The present law is woefully inadequate because it requires an individual director to be found personally responsible for a death, which has made it impossible to prosecute all but the very smallest of firms.

The new law will allow firms to be convicted when senior managers are proven responsible for a gross breach of their duty of care towards their workers.Then a company will face unlimited fines but the directors will be immune.

This is sufficiently punitive and will act as a serious deterrent.

In the end, it will be judged to be good legislation if company directors further review safety procedures, look carefully at how they are effectively communicated and ensure they are enforced.