A criminal court has found a small company guilty of corporate manslaughter in the first test case of the new offence.

The prosecution of Cotswold Geotechnical (Holdings) Ltd under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 will come as a wake up call to all companies, whatever their size, to have a health and safety culture across its workforce.

Cotswold was sentenced to a fine of £385,000, which could be paid over 10 years at £38,500 a year. The company was described as being in a “parlous financial state” and the sentence was passed to avoid the need for the company to be liquidated and dismiss four of its employees.

The case followed the death of an employee in September 2008 while taking soil samples from the bottom of a 3.5 metre trial pit at a building site. The walls of the trial pit were not supported and it collapsed, burying and asphyxiating the employee. The company had ignored well-recognised industry guidance that prohibited entry into excavations more than 1.2 metres deep and, at the time of the employee’s death, Cotswold had left him unsupervised on site.

The prosecution managed to pass the legal tests that there had been a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed to the employee and that a substantial element of the breach was in the way the organisation’s senior management managed or organised its activities.

The business owner was also due to face a charge of manslaughter, but was too ill to stand trial.

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