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Time is ripe for clear, new laws


THIS week's headline news offers some sobering thoughts for the owners and senior managers of all contractors.

Lee Harper has entered the history books as the first building boss to be jailed after pleading guilty to manslaughter after one of his roofers fell to his death.

His 16-month sentence sends the signal that legal attitudes are hardening and serious safety breaches will be punished severely.

Then there is the picture of two grim-faced former Balfour Beatty Rail staff entering the Old Bailey on charges of manslaughter after the Hatfield rail disaster.

This is expected to be a long, drawn-out trial and it will be for the jury to decide whether those in the dock are guilty of gross negligence and breaches of safety law.

But the pictures are a powerful illustration of the personal nightmare that engineers and construction bosses potentially face.

Setting aside these cases, there is a feeling that the public appetite for finding somebody to blame when people die is growing.

While no penalty can make up for the loss of a loved one there is also a very real risk that engineers and managers will become scapegoats when workers are killed on site.

In this type of climate it will be impossible to find anybody willing to take management responsibility for safety.Then everybody loses, because safety standards are likely to deteriorate rather than improve.

Government dithering on this issue has muddied the water between corporate killing and manslaughter legislation.The time is ripe for clear, new laws holding companies accountable for fatal mistakes.

Contractors would face the wrath of the courts and the most serious financial penalties. But sensibly worded legislation would spare a succession of directors from the threat of a spell in prison.