Blood in the Bank: Social and Legal Aspects of Death at Work

Slapper, Gary (1999). Blood in the Bank: Social and Legal Aspects of Death at Work. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.



This book, the first British study of its kind, is based upon national research into cases of commercially-related death in 20 towns and cities across Britain over the last five years.

The author has made a detailed study of 40 cases, examining every aspect of the legal and social responses to these deaths, attending and recording inquests, interviewing witnesses, the bereaved, trade union officials, police officers, HSE inspectors, coroners and lawyers. The research shows that:

• 20 per cent of deaths at work presented prima facie cases of corporate manslaughter
HSE prosecutions followed in only 33 per cent of all death at work cases

• In none of the inquests was the "unlawfully killed" option even offered to juries to consider

• lawyers represented firms in 100 per cent of inquests whereas relatives were represented in only 80 per cent

• 60 per cent of deaths were attributable to economic factors (as opposed, e.g. to simple ignorance about safety)

• A level of lethal risk-taking that, if anyone is hurt or killed, puts the culprit in jail in ordinary life will probably result in no serious outcome if the "criminal" risk-taker is a company. As a consequence of extraordinarily low resourcing and confused laws and legal policy, enforcement is erratic patchy, investigations of potentially serious crimes alarmingly poor, and prosecution rates infinitesimally low.

• Since 1965, 25,000 people have been killed at work or in major commercial disasters. HSE reports suggest that in 70 per cent of these deaths a management failure is to blame, yet there have only ever been 5 cases of corporate manslaughter, and only two of these resulted in convictions. The government does not seem keen to ensure the offence of corporate manslaughter is routinely prosecuted like other offences.

• There are now about 360 deaths at work a year according to the HSE. If 20 per cent were prosecuted as corporate manslaughter, there would be 80 prosecutions a year. More than one every week.

• This figure would rise to over two every week if death-at-work road traffic cases were included. Oddly, although 1.8 million people are "at work" on the roads each day, the HSE does not count these deaths. Many people are killed here because of cheap or insufficient maintenance of vehicles by fleet operators; over-stressful driving routines; over-large areas to be covered by company reps etc.

Dr Slapper said:
"The criminal law was developed in medieval times relation to individuals. Commercial companies did not operate the. Now, they are the main social actors yet they are effectively beyond the criminal law.

"As we have seen recently on the railways, in such shocking and tragic circumstances, when companies act with reckless disregard to public safety the cost both in blood and money is very high."

"All aspects of the social and legal systems assist in ensuring that corporate homicide is neither labelled nor processed as a serious crime. From the outset, commercially-related deaths are called "accidents" rather than "incidents" which prejudges their cause. Most police officers do not regard work place deaths as suspicious unless there is a knife in someone's back or it looks like someone got pushed off some scaffolding. If you lob a beer glass backwards over your shoulder indiscriminately at a crowd of people in a pub you will be jailed if someone gets injured. If a company exposes workers to precisely the same level of risk by contemptuous indifference to their safety, then, even if someone is gravely injured or killed probably nothing will happen to the company. If a legal case is brought it will be for a minor regulatory offence resulting in small fine."

"Many lawyers and trade union officers are more interested in securing compensation for bereaved relatives than in pressurising the authorities to bring prosecutions for manslaughter, so a serious crime, and one that occurs almost every week, goes officially unrecognised and unprosecuted. Coroners often assist in the systemic failure to pin the manslaughter label on deserving cases by not allowing evidence at inquests which would help in showing that a company had been grossly negligent. Oddly, although "unlawfully killed" is a legitimate inquest verdict, and English law recognises that a company can commit manslaughter, many of HM Coroners do not give effect to that law."

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  • Item ORO ID
  • 20964
  • Item Type
  • Book
  • ISBN
  • 1-84014-079-8, 978-1-84014-079-8
  • Keywords
  • criminal law; corporate manslaughter; deaths at work; white collar crime; economy; corporate risk; corporate social responsibility;
  • Academic Unit or School
  • Faculty of Business and Law (FBL) > Law
    Faculty of Business and Law (FBL)
  • Copyright Holders
  • © 1999 Ashgate
  • Depositing User
  • Gary Slapper