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New sentencing guidelines for at-work driver accidents

01 Apr 2010

New sentencing guidelines have set out the precise financial risk for fleets that have not done everything possible to minimise road risk.

Under the new regime, if a work-related road death leads to a prosecution for a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act, the Sentencing Guidelines Council has said the fine will be “seldom less than £100,000 and may be measured in hundreds of thousands of pounds or more”.

And if the organisation is convicted of Corporate Manslaughter, it added that the fine will be “seldom less than £500,000 and may be measured in millions of pounds”.

“Up until now it’s been hard to put a price on getting it wrong when it comes to road risk,” explained David Faithful, lawyer for Essential Risk Consultancy (ERC). “That’s no longer the case. At the bottom end of the spectrum, a simple breach of health and safety law could cost fleets up to £20,000.

“If someone is killed in a work-related road accident, the fine will be at least £100,000, or half a million pounds minimum if corporate manslaughter is proved, with no top limit on how much it could cost.”

The new guidelines also say convicted organisations may have to publish the details of their conviction, with the attendant damage to their reputation.

The new guidelines were published to coincide with the first corporate manslaughter trial, which began in Bristol on February 23.

Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings is in court accused of a “gross breach” of duty over the death of employee Alex Wright. Wright, who worked as a junior geologist for the firm, died in September 2008 when a trench collapsed on him as he collected soil samples.
Peter Eaton, the company director, also faces a charge of gross negligence manslaughter.
Eaton could face a life sentence if convicted, while the maximum sentence for his firm, which is charged with breaching health and safety rules, is an unlimited fine.
However, while it does not involve a fleet, this court case and these new guidelines should act as a stark reminder to the industry of its road safety responsibilities.

“Any fleet that has not yet taken every precaution to protect itself and its drivers should see these guidelines as the final wake-up call,” said Jeremy Hay, managing director of ERC.

“Organisations need to get expert advice and take a responsible attitude to the health and safety of employees behind the wheel. It’s not an expensive or complicated process: in fact, with the recession still biting it’s a vital cost-saving exercise as well.”