For the first time in the UK, a company has been charged under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. The company, Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings, is accused of the criminal offence of corporate manslaughter following the death of one of its employees, who was killed whilst taking soil samples from a pit in September last year. The company's director has also been charged with gross negligence manslaughter and could face life imprisonment if convicted. Both the company and the director have also been charged with breaches of health and safety legislation.

This is the first prosecution under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act, which was brought in to make it easier to hold companies accountable for the death of their employees. A company will be guilty of corporate manslaughter if the way its activities are managed or organised causes a death, and amounts to a gross breach of the duty of care to the person who died. A substantial part of the breach must have been in the way its activities were organised by senior management. If convicted, the company will face an unlimited fine.

It is expected that this will be the first of many such prosecutions – since the Act came into force in April 2008, many other work-related fatalities are under investigation for corporate manslaughter. Commentators have also speculated that the construction and engineering sectors are particularly vulnerable, because of the number of workplace deaths that occur in them each year. In view of this, it has never been more important to ensure that your organisation is aware of the scope of its health and safety obligations and what it must do to comply with them.