Hospitality and catering businesses could fall foul of forthcoming corporate manslaughter legislation unless they ensure all staff have been through health and safety training, lawyers have warned.
The updated Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act, which comes into effect next April, aims to make it easier to prosecute large organisations for work related deaths, including fatalities involving the public.
Under the current regime, corporate manslaughter prosecutions must be able to identify a "controlling mind" behind a failure or action leading to a death at work. Because this is difficult in large organisations, only smaller businesses have tended to be prosecuted.
Under the new law, senior management failures can collectively be held responsible, so the combination of failures can amount to the gross negligence needed for prosecution of a company, partnership and many other organisations.
Sole traders will continue to be prosecuted individually under common law manslaughter through gross negligence.
The impending change means hospitality and catering businesses must make sure that their health and safety practices are fit for purpose, according to Ian Tucker, associate at law firm Burges Salmon.
"Employers in the sector frequently have numerous low-skilled staff with a high turnover which leads to training difficulties," he said. "You have people who may move between jobs frequently, working long shifts, often late at night and who are working with machinery. Failure to provide appropriate training may be an area in which prosecutors will look for management failure in future."
Hospitality firms often mistakenly believe that serious injuries are unlikely in their industry, but fatalities are quite possible, Tucker said, pointing to the latest Health & Safety Executive figures which show three deaths in the sector in each of the years 2004/05 and 2005/06, and five in 2003/04.
"Caterers would therefore be well advised to take special precautions to ensure that their staff are fully and appropriately trained and act in accordance with their safety training," he said.
By Suzie Horne
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