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June 14, 2009

CORPORATE MANSLAUGHTER: :A wake-up call for the industry

The UK has recently seen the first charges brought against a company owner under the country’s corporate manslaughter bill. The result of this could have far reaching effects for those organising meetings and events in this country. Pete Roythorne investigates…

With the Crown Prosecution Service in the UK recently having brought the first charges against a company owner under the corporate manslaughter bill – whereby company owners can be deemed liable for fatal accidents while staff are under their jurisdiction – companies organising meetings and events, if they haven’t already, will need to start taking the issue very seriously. So, what should they be doing to protect themselves?

“Companies will have been aware for a while now with the lead up to the new legislation that they have key health and safety issues to deal with every time they put on an event and engage with their employees,” says Paul Cook, past president of MPI UK and managing director of Clarity Event Insurance. “The act introduced last year hasn’t changed the existing health and safety legislation it has merely built upon it so in a sense there should be no shocks to anyone.”


Death of a salesman: Companies organsing meetings
and events in the UK have a duty of care to their staff


Cook believes that it was inevitable that at some point the bill would result in convictions and that it will be interesting to see how much new attention is paid as a result. “As prosecutions will be on a case-by-case basis, first charges may not be reflective of future charges,” he adds.

Shifting responsibility

However, John Hooker, managing partner of Adding Value Consulting, a change management practice that specialises in the events industry, believes this will act as a wake-up call to many companies. “While general awareness of the need to do something has become widespread, many companies still choose to ignore this or are trying to shift the responsibility onto their suppliers,” he explains. “The simple truth is that every part of the supply chain has a responsibility from the client, through the agent, to the location.”

Nick Grecian, managing director of crewing experts Gallowglass, agrees and believes the economic climate has played its part. “Even though health and safety has become a major topic of conversation throughout the meetings and events industry over the past five years, there are still a lot of companies who pay mere lip service to it, if not ignore it totally,” he says. “Of course, the current economic climate also means that those businesses who are struggling for margins will have the added temptation to cut corners and risk cheaper, less safe solutions.”

So how can companies ensure that they are exercising their duty of care and protecting their staff when staging meetings and events?

“Risk assessment is part of the wider risk management agenda and the starting point is to evaluate in-house skills, processes and suppliers including freelance staff,” says Hooker. “Having a clear strategy and implementing the same is key. But it needs buy-in to be really successful. It needs a culture shift that moves away from a ‘tick box’ exercise to become a passionate requirement. It needs collaboration within the entire supply chain and a clear understanding of expectations.”

Grecian agrees: “It is critical to conduct proper risk assessments and adhere to them. That done, the staff should not get involved in areas where they are unfamiliar or not required.”

Standard practice
There are solid standards in place in the UK, and Association of Event Venues (AEV) director and Events Industry Alliance (EIA) PR manager, Tom Treverton, believes this will ensure there are few real disasters. “The hierarchical pyramid from a health and safety perspective has the Health and Safety Executive at the top followed by the local authority, venue, organiser and contractor. That leads to the client and their staff and creates a structure of responsibilities that should ensure that no one is being sold short on health and safety. Each has a role to play and a responsibility to undertake the various checks and balances at each stage of the event process.”
Treverton explains how this process works in practice: “The Local Authority will decide to licence a venue or not depending mostly on its ability to ensure that those entering the premises will be safe. Venues in turn will strive to ensure that the organisers and companies renting their space are going to be responsible in how they use it and who they employ to help them. Meeting and event planners and organisers will look to employ service companies that comply with the various professional standards for the trade as well as ensuring that their clients are not only aware of but have carried out their own risk assessments and health and safety reviews.”
Grecian concludes that at the end of the day it’s down to building strong relationships with your suppliers so you know who you can trust to do the job. “The same health and safety standards apply across industry in the UK,” he says. “However, It makes sense to go to companies who you know and can demonstrate that they are doing things properly, and not just trotting out the same generic documents and platitudes. you should be able to tell by the questions that they ask of you and your event.”

Whether, in the light of this first conviction, we will see a rush of other charges remains to be seen. But it certainly does sound a warning note to those organising their events in the UK, that they ignore the basic issues of health and safety at their peril.

Next week Pete Roythorne look at the implications for companies coming into the UK for their meetings and events as well as for UK companies holding events abroad.

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