NEW LABOUR managed to spin a five-year delay over making companies accountable for deaths at work into a dramatic new initiative on Tuesday. Tony Blair promised to introduce a 'corporate killing law' in the 1997 general election manifesto.
But the government is only responding now after pressure from families of those killed in such tragedies as the 1999 Ladbroke Grove rail crash. At present a company can only be charged if a director can be proved responsible under manslaughter laws.
Unions and safety campaigners have been pushing for the law to be extended. The government's belated legislation could move in that direction. But it has given assurances to the bosses' CBI that new laws will not be too burdensome. The Home Office's consultation document also exempted 'Crown bodies' - that is a large number of government employers.
Life is worth just £25,000
ANY NEW law will come too late for the 14 building workers killed at work over the last six weeks. And it will not guarantee an end to the kind of sentences handed out in Hull Crown Court in February.
Teglagaard Hardwood and its managing director, John Horner, pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges after a stack of hardwood planks fell on 18 year old Christopher Longrigg, killing him.
The company was fined just £25,000 and John Horner given a 15 month suspended sentence. His is one of only a handful of successful prosecutions over deaths at work.
New Ladbroke Grove scandal
BRITISH TRANSPORT Police have reopened their investigation into the Ladbroke Grove rail disaster in which 31 people died. But Socialist Worker has learnt of worries inside the Health and Safety Executive that its rail inspectors could be charged as a result of cooperating with police inquiries.
The outrageous defence of Thames Trains at the crash inquiry was that the HSE was to blame for not forcing the company to obey regulations it should have been following anyway.
Survivors of Ladbroke Grove and other disasters say they do not want junior employees or inspectors scapegoated, but want top management held responsible. Yet the government is pushing through cuts to the HSE, which will make prosecutions more difficult and make it easier to blame inspectors.
The HSE has been told to make 5 percent cuts and 50 inspectors due to leave will not be replaced. Steve Kay, branch secretary of the inspectors' Prospect union, told Socialist Worker, 'We strongly want a new law on corporate killing. HSE inspectors will play a key role in investigations. But that has implications for resources.'