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Firms to be held to account for staff fatalities

Waste management firms could be punished for deaths in the workplace under legislation the Government plans to bring in following the general election.

The Home Office will be consulting on its draft Corporate Manslaughter Bill until June 17 and the paper could have serious repercussions for the recycling trade, which per employee has the worst fatality rate of any UK industry.

The proposed bill doesn't introduce new sentences for the crime - this remains an unlimited fine for offending firms.

However, it does make it easier for companies to be prosecuted.

Under current law a prosecution can only succeed if the Crown can identify and prosecute an individual that acted as the "directing" or "controlling" mind of the defendant organisation.

This makes it virtually impossible to convict large organisations.

Under the proposed law, any corporation or government body would be guilty of corporate manslaughter if an employee's or member of the public's death was caused by management failure.

This would mean looking at the way an organisation was run, rather than one individual's negligence.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke said: "Companies and other organisations must be held properly to account for gross failings by their senior management which have fatal consequences.

"On the other hand, as an offence of homicide, corporate manslaughter charges must be reserved for the very worst cases of management failure.

"This offence must complement, not replace, other forms of redress such as prosecutions under health and safety legislation."

The bill, therefore, will not affect the Health and Safety at Work Act, although it does mean companies could be charged for both corporate manslaughter and breaches of health and safety legislation.

Clarke added: "Organisations who already take their obligations under health and safety law seriously have nothing to fear."

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