When it comes to health and safety, and especially companies that might have to arrange steel erectors insurance, there is a new set of rules that have to be understood by management and workers alike.

The first charge of corporate manslaughter under the new legislation has just been brought against a firm in Gloucestershire and this will have ramifications for those taking out steel erectors insurance, and most other companies.

The firm, which offers geotechnical services, was fined £385,000 for not preventing the death of one of its employers. The man, a 27-year-old from Cheltenham, died near Stroud when a trench in which he was working collapsed. The court decided that the company in question should have done more to prevent the death.

The company was on a day to day basis involved in activities not usually regarded as dangerous as those taking out steel erectors insurance for their employees.

Matters were complicated by the fact that the company was recognised by the court as being in financial problems and that a larger fine would jeopardise its very future, as well as the jobs of the remaining four employees.

The man died whilst taking soil samples for a housing development in a pit which was nearly four metres deep, but not supported by timber, or metal structures to keep from caving in. The company denied the charge, but Winchester Crown Court found otherwise and this was the first prosecution first under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.

A senior lawyer commenting on the case said that before the Act of 2007: “…it was necessary to secure a conviction against a senior individual within the company. Under the new act this principle is replaced by a requirement for the organisation’s activities to have caused the death in a way that falls far below what could reasonably be expected of that company.”

The judge hearing the case said that the company could pay the fine over a period of ten years, at £38,500 a year, because it was recognised that it was in a seriously precarious financial position.

The judge said: “It may well be that the fine in the terms of its payment will put this company into liquidation. If that is the case it’s unfortunate but unavoidable but it’s a consequence of the serious breach.”

What made matters more complicated, was the fact that the company’s director was seriously ill and only had months to live. But the judge pointed out that the company director and the company was one and the same thing, and that the director had ignored concerns, voiced over some years, that employees should not be allowed down unsupported pits.

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