The Government has big companies in its sights with its new Draft Corporate Manslaughter Bill.
According to Birmingham-based Wragge & Co's safety health and environment litigation team, the proposed legislation targets larger companies in a bid to level the legal playing field for all organisations.
While this move is to be welcomed, SHEL associate Andrew Litchfield cautions that the Draft Bill is unclear on key definitions.
Mr Litchfield said: "At the moment, it is easier to convict a small company simply because the chain of command is usually shorter and involves fewer people. Under the current law, the identification principle - the link between individual and corporate responsibility - is hard to find in larger companies. The draft legislation solves this problem, but risks causing more."
Now a company can only be convicted of corporate manslaughter if the "controlling mind" of the business had also been convicted of manslaughter as an individual. In large companies, it has proved almost impossible to identify such an individual.
Under the Draft Bill, the offence of corporate manslaughter focuses on failures by "senior managers". If the way in which any of a company's activities are organised by its senior managers causes a death and amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased, the company could be convicted.
Mr Litchfield added: "Relative terms like 'senior managers' are no use to companies looking for clarity.
" With penalties including imprisonment and fines, companies need to be able to understand the law in order to adhere to it."