Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Debate Accident investigation


Under current arrangements the HSE already investigates all reportable work-related fatalities and considers possible prosecution under health and safety legislation. We are increasingly involved in supporting police manslaughter investigations.

Since 1992, 125 of our investigations have been referred to the CPS. We know very well what this job entails, the rigour of investigation that is necessary, and the potential complexity of subsequent prosecutions. We are already experienced in briefing counsel for the health and safety cases heard in the higher courts, where all manslaughter trials are conducted.

Breaches under health and safety legislation are serious criminal offences. Our inspectors are specialists and professional in their investigation.

Their expertise and experience mean they are well placed to play a leading role in investigating the new offences proposed by the Home Office. The tests are comparable with those they already apply in deciding whether to prosecute under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974. They would bring essential knowledge of industrial organisation; technical and practical experience of work situations; and an awareness of health and safety precautions.

They would also take full account of the role played by the management chain and the role of individual directors and managers. We brought around 30 individual charges against managers and directors last year.

Investigating and prosecuting such cases would fit well with HSE's core work although some would remain for the police or other regulators. We have the expertise and necessary experience and a leading role for the HSE would reinforce the message that health and safety breaches are serious criminal offences.

Whoever takes this on would need extra resources. New units may be required, supported by training and, where necessary, organisational change. This is true for the HSE, but we are confident that, given the necessary resources, we will meet the challenge. Certainly we would not be shy of considering possible changes under the new offences.


Who should investigate whether companies and their directors have committed manslaughter?

Should it be professional crime investigators with proven experience of investigating suspicious deaths, or an under-funded regulatory agency with a poor record even in investigating the health and safety offences for which it is currently responsible?

And who should prosecute them for these manslaughter offences? Should it be a professional prosecution service with years of experience in prosecuting individuals for serious crimes, or a regulatory agency whose current prosecution policy is 'resource' rather than 'evidence' based and which rarely prosecutes company directors even for health and safety offences?

It appears that if the Home Office had its way, all workplace deaths would be investigated by the Health & Safety Executive; if the police had any role in the investigation, it would be subsidiary to the investigation carried out by the regulatory agency.

It is the view of the Centre for Corporate Accountability that this would be wrong both in principle and practice.

It would be wrong in principle because offences as serious as manslaughter should never be investigated by any regulatory agency.

It would be wrong in practice because the HSE is simply not geared up to these investigations and the police are that much more effective as crime investigators. The Centre has, for example, been monitoring a police investigation into a recent work related death that took place in Greater Manchester.

The CID set up an incident room with ten dedicated police officers. The investigation took four solid months, involved reconstructions and aerial photographs. These sort of investigation techniques are simply outside the HSE's capacity and knowledge.

This is not to say that the HSE should not have an important role in manslaughter investigations - through its expertise in management systems and health and safety issues - but this role must be secondary to that of the police.

Moreover, at the end of the day, what is more likely to deter reckless or grossly careless directors and make them change their ways?

Is it a knock on the door by a civilian-dressed HSE officer or the sirens of a police car that comes to a halt outside the company offices?

The facts

'Reforming the law on involuntary manslaughter', was launched by home secretary Jack Straw in May. It consulted public opinion on a range of new measures to reform the law on involuntary manslaughter.

The Centre for Corporate Accountability aims to decrease the level of deaths, injuries and disease resulting from corporate and other organisational activities.

a fatal accident and decide whether the facts justify a manslaughter charge. The Health & Safety Executive assists any prosecution. It takes over if the police decide not to pursue.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.