When an employee or member of the public dies as a result of some negligent act, it is not only an extremely traumatic event but in the vast majority of cases the situation is easily avoidable, Bibby Consulting & Support has said.

The health and safety advisor and employment law specialist was reacting to the largest ever fine being imposed on a company convicted under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, which came into effect in April 2008. Just one month later, an employee of Lion Steel Equipment of Hyde, Greater Manchester, was killed after falling through a skylight. While the case against individual directors was dropped, the company was still prosecuted, found to be culpable and fined £480,000 plus £84,000 costs.

According to Bibby Consulting & Support’s Managing Director Michael Slade, the size of the fine is an illustration of what companies can expect if they fail fundamentally in their duty to protect their employees.

“Cases like these can send a company into liquidation,” he said. “Even for businesses with a substantial turnover, this size of fine, while not intended to send the firm under, is intended to hurt. In fact, the fine was 20 per cent lower than it could – and perhaps should – have been so in that respect the company was very lucky.”

Slade went on: “But the situation could so easily have been avoided. Any company that has skylights should know they are fragile. It isn’t difficult to cover the skylights or net them underneath – it is fundamental and basic practice, but a man is now dead because the company did not put the appropriate safe systems in place. This negligence was reflected in the size of the fine, but regrettably the whole tragic event was wholly avoidable. It is absolutely essential that companies can prove that they have implemented safe working practices and procedures and communicated these to staff”.

The current act was introduced because previous legislation had proved too difficult to enforce, but this is now the third case where a company has been successfully prosecuted so it looks as though the act is here to stay.