Three Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service managers will face charges of manslaughter by gross negligence for the deaths of four firefighters in a warehouse in Atherstone-on-Stour in 2007, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has decided.

In addition, Warwickshire County Council will face a charge of failing to ensure the health and safety at work of its employees, under section 2 Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The incident pre-dates the coming into force of the statutory offence of corporate manslaughter.

The individual managers were all directly involved in the incident acting as incident commanders before, during and after their colleagues were sent into the burning building. In that role they were responsible for making the operational decisions while their colleagues tried to put out the fire. The defendants will appear at Leamington Spa Magistrates' Court on 1 April 2011.

This decision continues the trend for prosecutors to focus on the culpability of the individuals as well as the organisation when investigating fatal incidents. See the article above about the case involving Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings, which became the first organisation to be convicted of corporate manslaughter under the new offence and was last month fined £385,000.

It has never been more important to ensure not only that you have a robust framework for managing all risks within your organisation, but that you also have clear procedures for managing fatal incidents that fairly protect the rights of the organisation and the individuals involved.