Landmark Case – Employer Found Personally Guilty of Manslaughter of Employee
On 18 June 2015 a Supreme Court jury found an employer guilty of manslaughter and endangering the life of his employee. This was deemed to be the case even though he had relied on the skill of his other employees to ensure proper maintenance of equipment.
This is the first time that an employer has been found to be personally responsible in the criminal courts (rather than prosecuted under the Work Health Safety Act) for work-place negligence.
Because the conviction resulted from the decision of a jury, rather than a judgment, we do not yet have the judge’s reasoning for the conviction, or know the full facts of the case, but what we know is set out below.
- A driver employed by a trucking company was killed in 2014 when the brakes on the company’s 20 year old Mitsubishi tautliner failed, causing it to crash into a pole.
- The defendant, the sole shareholder and director of the company, denied the evidence given by some of the other drivers and employees that they had repeatedly advised him that the truck was dangerous to drive in the days leading up to the crash. He had himself driven the truck and had found no issues with the brakes.
- The man, who had only taken over the company a few months before the crash, admitted that his knowledge of braking systems in trucks “would fit into an eyeglass” and that he had left the maintenance of the trucks up the company mechanic, who had not informed him of the imminent danger.
- The prosecution in the case told the jury that whilst the man had not intentionally put his drivers at risk, he had been “recklessly indifferent” to the alleged dangers and had omitted to perform property maintenance.
The jury found that the lack of involvement in the maintenance of the vehicle by the employer amounted to a criminal act and convicted him. The penalty for manslaughter carries a maximum life sentence of imprisonment.
The man is yet to be sentenced and may well seek to appeal the conviction but it is an important development in the industrial landscape that the prosecution occurred at all.
What Does This Mean For You?
The introduction of the Work Health and Safety Act in 2012 signaled the government’s intention to hold employers personally liable for the safety of their employees, but the prosecution of an employer through the criminal law jurisdiction goes further than ever before.
Even if a conviction were not to be recorded, in having to go through the process of a criminal trial, the costs to your business and you personally would be enormous, not only financially, but in time, lost productivity, stress, loss of reputation and the effect on your personal life.
For that reason, it is clear that you cannot simply rely on your employees to ensure safety, you must take a pro-active role in ensuring it. Regular risk assessments, hazard identification and ensuring that equipment is properly and regularly maintained are essential.