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June 13, 2008
By: Anon

John Hooker:The Corporate Manslaughter Act - is your business prepared?

Companies in the UK spend £22 billion per year on corporate events, according to figures from the Business Tourism Partnership, but with the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act coming into effect on 6 April 2008, could this spell the death of traditional teambuilding and other corporate activities?

The Act makes it easier to prosecute companies and other large organisations where gross failures in the management of health and safety lead to death. Where found guilty, companies, organisations and government bodies face an unlimited fine.

Risk assessment is vital
Ultimately, you and your business are liable, you always have been, but the law must be able to show that a company did not identify and respond effectively to potential hazards. A risk assessment is, therefore, vital in the defence of any personal injury claims or enforcement action that may follow accidents. Liability insurance does not mitigate responsibility of risk.

Your supply chain is key – from your event management company through to all of their sub-suppliers. Do you know your suppliers? Have you vetted them? It is vital to ensure they are compliant with, and appropriate to, your business regulations. If you have a global supply chain, language barriers and cultural differences mean interpretation of these regulations may differ from country to country.

Once you have the right supply chain, you must then consider the risk involved in each element of the activity.

How do you assess the risk?
It is vital to seek professional advice when carrying out any risk assessment, but in essence it is a calculation based on the harm/severity that could result from the activity or task you are trying to perform.

For each hazard identified, it is imperative to document all those who may be affected, from employees and other attendees through to local residents, contractors and even potential trespassers!

Also consider the experience of previous activities and draw on the expertise of suppliers along with information, requirements, restrictions and assessments from the venue, and information, guidance and standards from national groups or professional event organisations. Guidance from publications produced by the Health and Safety Executive and legislative standards, codes of practice and British Standards can also prove helpful.

A duty of care
The risk assessment may result in a change in plans entirely, but as a general rule, if the activity is low risk then no action is probably necessary. If there is a medium risk then consider methods to reduce the dangers and implement controls to minimise opportunity. If the activity is high risk, you must consider ways to remove, or at the very least reduce hazards. If this is not possible, consider not conducting the activity at all. If you do decide to go ahead, identify any risk to the participants in writing and implement significant controls.

Despite concerns regarding the time and cost involved in risk management, if carried out properly, an assessment will protect a company from legal action and lead to happy and confident employees – and clients – with no lost profit through payouts.

In addition, the Sentencing Advisory Panel’s Consultation Paper asserts that companies charged under the Corporate Manslaughter Act should publicise their misdemeanour to customers, suppliers and shareholders, so a pre-emptive risk assessment could also save your business’ reputation.

But above all, risk management is about a duty of care. All businesses have a duty to ensure, as far as possible, employees’ health, safety and welfare while at work.

Eliminate risk by not using unknown suppliers or high-risk venues. Ensure that you fully understand the cultural environment, as well as the psyche and appropriateness of the audience for the proposed activities. Reduce unnecessary risk by not making any assumptions and putting everything in writing, preparing as much as possible and making sure your business is insured!

John Hooker is director – client delivery specialists at marketing and communications company THA Group, which specialises in delivering bespoke internal communications programmes.

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