Wednesday, 11 October 2006
Question 7: To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment his plans to bring corporate manslaughter legislation, based on the proposal made by the Law Reform Commission, before the Houses of the Oireachtas in view of the fact that there were 73 workplace fatalities in 2005 and 42 to date in 2006. [32165/06]
The issue of corporate manslaughter was considered while drafting the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Bill, which ultimately became the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005. The Attorney General was of the opinion that there were much broader issues to be considered than those of safety, health and welfare at work. Legislating in the relatively confined area of occupational safety and health would have omitted other sectors in which corporate manslaughter could be committed. It was therefore decided it was inappropriate to deal with the issue of corporate killing in legislation pertaining to occupational safety, health and welfare and the regulation thereof.
The Law Reform Commission accepted the view of the Office of the Attorney General that the scope of the 2005 Act was appropriately narrower than the scope of the legislation it recommended to deal with the proposed offence. The commission also recommended that there should be individual statutory liability for managers who are culpable in the causation of death. Section 80 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 provides for directors, managers and other similar officers of an undertaking to be prosecuted before the courts for an offence that is attributable to connivance or neglect on their part.
The matter of consideration of the wider implementation of the recommendations in the report of the Law Reform Commission is one for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in the context of his responsibility for the criminal law system.
Will the Minister of State consider a Bill that includes the Law Reform Commission's wording on corporate manslaughter? Does he object to its wording or to the concept of introducing legislation to deal with corporate manslaughter?
Is the Minister of State aware that 73 people died in the workplace last year and that 42 died in the workplace so far this year? There were only 40 prosecutions and only 94% of cases were successful, amounting to fines totalling €463,000 and to an average fine per prosecution of approximately €10,000. Does the Minister not accept that a wayward captain of industry or operator would consider a cost-benefit analysis in which he would weight the cost of replacing a faulty machine worth in excess of €100,000, for example, against the likely fine of €10,000 which would be awarded against him if he were caught? Such a fine is a pittance in comparison with the value of some of the operations in which workers lost their lives last year. In light of this, is it not extremely important that we move quickly to ensure a corporate manslaughter provision within the framework legislation of the State?
Deputy Morgan is correct regarding the fines this year. However, there have been much greater fines, including those issued last year. A fine in the order of €500,000 was issued in one case.
It is important to remember that the provisions of section 80 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 implements the second recommendation in the report of the Law Reform Commission. It covers the Deputy's requirements adequately in the context of safety, health and welfare at work. The Law Reform Commission accepts that the much wider responsibility pertaining to corporate manslaughter falls within the remit of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
We had a lengthy discussion on this subject, particularly during Committee Stage of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Bill 2005. Has the Minister of State had any contact with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in this regard? Does he regard this as part of his role in strengthening the legislation, which clearly needs to be strengthened given the 42 deaths that have occurred in the workplace this year? Will such interdepartmental contact, if initiated, deal with corporate manslaughter legislation?
Section 80 of the 2005 Act deals more than adequately with what would be required in the context of safety, health and welfare at work. When the debate on the legislation took place in the House, the consultation paper of the Law Reform Commission was all that had been published. The legislation came into effect in September of last year whereas the report was not published until October. It is accepted that section 80 deals with the second major recommendation of the commission and that it is the only element relevant to my Department in terms of safety, health and welfare at work. The other matters that arise are clearly the responsibility of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. He is clearly aware of this and no doubt we will have ideas on how progress can be made.