July 6, 2017

Changes To Make Manslaughter Sentencing More ‘Transparent’ – What Employers Need to Know

The Sentencing Council’s recent announcement of consultation on its proposals for how offenders convicted of manslaughter should be sentenced in England and Wales may have raised concerns amongst employers.

In this special blog post we explore why the consultation has been called and the responsibilities of employers to protect all staff.

Understanding the need for a consultation for manslaughter sentencing guidelines

Any loss of human life is not mended simply by handing out a sentence, but it’s importance that the decisions made regarding sentencing for manslaughter are consistent and transparent. And it’s on these two points which the Sentencing Council believes a consultation is necessary.

Let’s be clear; this announcement is not designed to inspire fear, worry or concern, or lead employers toward rash and potentially unnecessary actions. Instead, the Sentencing Council is aiming to put together the first set of comprehensive guidelines to deliver a consistent approach to sentencing.

In addition, due to legislative changes related to the partial defences of murder, the minimal guidelines which are in existence are now out of date.

How is the consultation tied to workplace fatalities?

Throughout the last 30 years the number of workplace fatalities has steadily decreased year-on-year, but the latest statistics show a distinct levelling off. In the 2016/17 year, 137 workers and 92 members of the public were fatally injured due to work-related incidents.

The primary causes of workplace fatalities are still vehicle and fall from height related incidents, with both the construction and agricultural industries the sectors with the highest number of deaths.

The new consultation seeks to address sentencing in four main areas:

  • Unlawful acts of manslaughter
  • Gross negligence manslaughter
  • Manslaughter by reason of loss of control
  • Manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility

Currently, not all convictions of manslaughter are sentenced equally. The consultation documentation highlights the discrepancy between the average sentence for manslaughter by gross negligence (four years) and the sentence for unlawful acts of manslaughter (eight years, six months).

As workplace fatalities are cause by a variety of reasons, including the four detailed above, its hoped that the new guidelines will present a more balanced scale for sentencing.

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How do most businesses manage the risk of workplace fatalities?

Many organisations have in place a system to manage health and safety, these range from globally recognised management systems like OHSAS 18001 to a more rudimentary system focussing on key health and safety procedures, systems may even be detailed on a risk assessment within the management and ongoing controls.

Regardless of the flavour of management system it is important that it fits, and is pertinent to, the business activities. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published a document in 2016 entitled ‘Helping Great Britain work well’ and its focus is primarily on broader involvement and ownership within Health and Safety. It’s segmented into six key strategies:

  1. Acting together
  2. Tackling ill health
  3. Managing risk well
  4. Supporting small employees
  5. Keeping pace with change
  6. Sharing our success

A management system can be sensible and simple and doesn’t have to over-complicate the operations of a business so long as it addresses the need to reduce the risk of illness and injury.

At its core, a management system shall adopt the principles of the ‘Deming four-step management Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) method’ used throughout business for the control and continuous improvement of all processes and services.

PLAN
Establish the objectives and processes necessary to deliver results in accordance with the expected output – be that a deliverable, target or goal.

DO
Have planned objectives, implement them and follow the agreed processes and procedures to produce a quality product.

CHECK
Throughout the planning and finalisation of the product, carefully analyse the ongoing results (measured and collected in ‘DO’ above) and compare these against the expected results (targets or goals from the ‘PLAN’) to see if there are any differences.

Look for any deviations and improvements that might have been made during the implementation of the ‘PLAN’.

ACT
The results of the ‘CHECK’ stage are carefully analysed to see if any further steps can be taken to refine and improve the ‘PLAN’.

Demonstration of the continued success of your Health and Safety Management System is then achieved via regular audits and reviews.

PDCA - continuous improvement - Deming cycle

PDCA – continuous improvement – Deming cycle

 

Why businesses should welcome the sentencing announcements

A robust health and safety system, which is implemented correctly at every stage and level of the organisation and its activities, is vital to minimising the risk of a workplace fatality.

Though there is a small chance of higher sentences in some cases due to the readjustment, overall the upcoming revisions to the sentencing guidelines are designed to make the process clearer.

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About the author

Shankar Gocool

Health & Safety Consultant