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CORPORATE manslaughter was once again on the legal agenda in recent months when Cotswold Geotechnical was fined £385,000 after being found guilty following the death of a geologist when a trial pit collapsed on him. The company was found guilty of gross breach of duty to the dead man at Winchester Crown Court.

Corporate manslaughter charges have long been difficult to prosecute. The capsizing of the ferry Herald of Free Enterprise with the loss of nearly 200 lives and high profile rail accidents led to the 2007 Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act in the UK. Prior to that legislation and also before the advent of the ISM Code, which requires each shipping company to have a DPA or Designated Person Ashore who has an open-door direct line to senior management, it was virtually impossible to identify a "controlling mind" behind companies' actions.

The Cotswold prosecution is the first to succeed since the legislation came into force.

Sentencing guidelines under the Act suggest that £500,000 plus is likely to be the fine levied against companies who are successfully prosecuted, and that doesn't take into account all the knock-on effects of loss of reputation, not to mention employees voting with their feet.

So, if you think your company's policies and communications procedures are over the top, think again.

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