Lion Steel is only the third company in the UK to be convicted of corporate manslaughter and was fined £480,000 today at Manchester Crown Court and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £84,000. It is the largest of the three organisations so far convicted of the offence (it has over 100 employees) yet nothing like the size of the businesses that were probably the real targets of the changes in the law four years ago. David Young, partner and head of international law firm Eversheds’ Health and Safety team, discusses the implications for much larger companies:

“Lion Steel was charged following the death of an employee who suffered fatal injuries when he fell through a fragile roof at its site in Hyde, Cheshire in May 2008. The company admitted the offence earlier this month, part way through a trial, on the basis that all charges against its directors would be dropped (three men had been charged with gross negligence manslaughter and health and safety charges). A further charge of failing to ensure the safety of employees under the Health and Safety at Work Act will lie on file.

“The fine of £480,000 is consistent with published sentencing guidelines. The extended period for payment of the fine and costs (up to 3 years) reflects submissions made regarding the company’s ability to pay such a significant sum immediately without prejudicing the prospects of current employees. The costs awarded were reduced by a factor of 50% due to the delay in bringing the prosecution which is in itself interesting.

“Lion Steel is certainly bigger than Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings and JMW Farms so a trial could have explored some of the more challenging and uncertain aspects of the Act which still remain to be tested in respect of a larger company. For example, how will the courts resolve the question of who is a “senior manager” in larger organisations? More broadly, opinion is divided as to whether there will ever be a successful prosecution of a truly large organisation for corporate manslaughter. The question we might ask, even before this, is whether the Crown Prosecution Service will even try?

“The fine imposed does represent the largest fine under corporate manslaughter legislation. The temperature is rising; many would say it is not before time and the juxtaposition with today’s Crown Prosecution Service announcement that Austin and McLean Limited is to be charged with manslaughter as well as health and safety offences in relation to a fatal accident at the Fawley oil refinery in August 2008 is notable.”