We have written much about companies being prosecuted under the “Corporate Manslaughter Act” and advised everyone to ensure that they put everything they can in place to make sure this does not happen to them. Fail to do that and if you find your company is in court, you are defenceless!
Under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, an organisation is guilty of corporate manslaughter if the way in which its activities are managed or organised causes a death and amounts to a gross breach of a duty of care to the person who died.
The sentence for corporate manslaughter is an unlimited fine which is to be determined by a judge. The judge may also give the organisation a publicity or remedial order.
We write shortly after the conviction of a company under the corporate manslaughter act, which resulted in them being fined £385,000 which, it seems will now force that company into liquidation to pay the fine. So don’t go thinking the courts are going to be lenient with you if the worst happens, because it seems irrespective of the impact on the business being charged, the courts will impose very heavy fines. In this case, the prosecution chose not to prosecute the managing director “personally” because of ill health, but in normal terms, he would have likely been in the dock also.
Whilst this first prosecution (May 2011) relates to an accident that happened at work and did not involve a vehicle, but the same rules and principals are in place when ever an employee is driving on business for your company and already, statistically, driving at work is the most dangerous thing an employee does
Please, take notice of this and whilst we can’t advise you how to take care of your employees in every aspect of their job, we can try and encourage you to look at the way everything happens in regard to people who are driving on your behalf.
Simple common sense methods to minimise the risk of something going wrong, are not difficult, and if you fail to consider the risks and fail to put things in place to minimise or avoid them, should the worse happen, just like the case outlined above, you may well be found guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence and find yourself out of business.
You need to keep your drivers safe and ensure that if there is an accident, that it is not a result of neglect on your part.
I know its tough, as you can’t be with your drivers all the time, but its about what’s reasonable and you need to be able to demonstrate to the investigating police that you’ve taken all every reasonable step to ensure your drivers are safe and comply with the law and below are just some suggestions:-
- Don’t ask drivers to meet a tight arrival deadline.
- Give your drivers instructions as to what to do if they feel tired at the wheel. Make sure they understand them.
- Don’t ask your drivers to work unreasonably long days, or work long hours in the office then drive any distance.
- Put policies & procedures in place regarding the use of mobile phones. Make sure your drivers read them and get them to sign to agree they will comply.
- Give clear guidance regarding your policy on drink driving and the use of drugs, (you may employ a zero policy) but again, make sure the driver is aware and signs to confirm that
- Check both parts of a drivers licence frequently (you can lose a licence very quickly) I recommend at least annually, but every 3 or 6 months would be better
- Go out (as a matter of course) with each new driver that joins your company to judge their driving skills and if training is needed, get it done.
- Don’t ask drivers to use a vehicle that they are not familiar with. For example, If they have always driven a manual and you ask them to drive an automatic (even for one journey), make sure they are capable and if you want them to take something out in a van, ensure they are experienced enough.
- If a driver is responsible for checking vehicles maintenance, ensure he knows the daily checks you require and that he knows that they are his responsibility. Also ensure he submits his vehicle for servicing or MOT at the correct intervals.
- Consider an overnight stay if a drivers already done a full days work. Don’t ask them to start a journey when they are already tired.
Everything is pretty much common sense really!
I guess the easy way, would be to perhaps have all this added to your company’s handbook, but perhaps that isn’t practical, but certainly, it wouldn’t cost a fortune to have a “drivers guide” printed up, it could be done using the office PC and provide places for drivers to sign acknowledging your policies and procedures and you could both have a copy and it would cost you pennies.
Why not start today, think it out a bit and think of all the dangers that could happen. Put them all into a easily understandable list and meet with each of your drivers, ask them to bring their licence (so you can check it) and then go through your requirements one by one and get the driver buy into the importance of this and to sign to say he understands. Whilst you’re together, get the driver to take you out for about 30mins with him driving and if training is needed, you will know and can arrange that and the entire meeting will take less than one hour! To me, that’s a dam good investment.
Looking at it from the other side, would you want to lose your best salesman “your business getter” because he’s had an accident? Well you can do lots to avoid this.
OK, this isn’t going to be a complete cure-all, but it would demonstrate to any investigating police officer that you have put rules in place, discussed them with each driver and they’ve signed to acknowledge that and also that you’ve checked their licence and even gone out in a vehicle with them to judge their driving skills.
Surely, if you’ve taken all these steps, and the worst does happen, any court is going to find it difficult to convict you.
One final point, times are hard and we are all struggling to get business, but we absolutely MUST ensure we don’t ask our drivers to burn the candle at both ends. If we knowingly expect a driver to work to tight deadlines, we are effectively leaving him with no option but to take risks, or speed to achieve them. If appointment times don’t allow your driver adequate time to get to them, that’s an obvious accident waiting to happen. Telling an employee “he must finish that job today, no matter how late he has to stay” then him crashing on the way home, well its 100% down to you as his employer. Sending someone on an early start training course some distance away, leaving him to drive back after a full days training, well you’re going to be responsible for that as well. We really shouldn’t ask a driver to do the late shift, finish at 10pm, then be on the road again at 6am, as that really does not leave time for adequate recovery or sleep, because you know what, if there is an accident, for sure, he’s going to blame it on you, because you pushed him too hard!
I guess you will figure this all out based on what suits your own individual company best, but it’s certain that if you do nothing and the worst happens, you could even end up in jail, after having lost your business.