In light of the announcement of the first ever prosecution under the Corporate Manslaughter Act, security clients and contractors need to give real consideration to the implications for their relationship, warns leading manned security company Wilson James. Wilson James human resources director Gemma Quirke comments: “The security sector exists to manage and minimise risk so negligence can bring devastating results – and the partnership between security clients and contractors means that both can fall foul of this legislation. Sadly, and perversely, the continuing drive to cut margins among many clients and manned security companies increases the likelihood of compromised service and safety levels. For example, the widespread tolerance of security officers working an excessive number of long shifts, and the resulting impaired functioning, could lead to future fatal accidents within the sector and subsequent prosecution of the supplier and their customer under the corporate manslaughter legislation.”
The Act makes it easier than previous measures to initiate a prosecution against more complex organisations– typically medium-sized and large – because it focuses on whether management failure has taken place at the level of the workplace establishment rather than proving an individual’s guilt. This puts the onus on the Board and other senior managers to ensure that weaknesses in systems, processes and attitudes are eliminated. Key aspects include clarity of risk management responsibilities; effective delegation and monitoring; appropriate levels of training throughout the organisation; and the ability to respond promptly when changes are needed. Proper record keeping is also essential.
Paul Housego, an employment lawyer with much experience of the security industry says: “People should not go to work and die, but it happens almost every working day. Taking the view that ‘accidents will happen’ was never humane, but now cannot be regarded as a tenable business plan. I expect to see a steady rise in the number of such cases, and I think that Judges will not be slow in giving directions to juries as to how the law applies to the circumstances of any particular fatal accident to make corporate manslaughter convictions possible.”
Gemma Quirke adds: “Security clients should factor their relationship with contractors into these considerations. Apart from ensuring that health and safety measures adequately protect security staff on site, they also need to establish objectively that their manned security provider is actually up to the job, at the contract price provided, and consistently delivering the level of service that they expect. Long hours, low pay, poor recruitment and training processes and limited management support will all erode the ability of security officers to perform at the required level. Clients won’t be able to dismiss an incident automatically as the security contractor’s responsibility. Everyone will come under investigation, and it is likely that future corporate manslaughter cases will be complex with multiple defendants. Clients as well as inadequately run security companies may find themselves in the dock.”