There are so many stories of people that lost their limbs while at work. Some were not so lucky. They lost their lives on the job. There are different dynamics that may lead up to the occurrence of accidents at the workplace. The essence of this article is to state the position of the Nigerian law on fatal accidents in the work place. Can anyone be held responsible for such deaths and the incidents that caused them? To what extent is this responsibility? Can responsibility be shared?
Corporate manslaughter is a crime which renders a company/organization liable to punishment for culpable conduct leading up to a person’s death. Such culpable conduct on the part of the company/organization is its negligence and breach of the duty of care it owed to the deceased as its employee. If ‘A’ loses an arm and consequently dies while working for ‘B’ establishment, ‘B’ establishment may be liable for corporate manslaughter where it is shown that it neglected a duty of care in terms of the existence of safety tools which could have averted such an event. Management is usually held responsible in such instances.
The Corporate Manslaughter Bill 2015 is seeking to make provisions for corporate manslaughter and corporate homicide in Nigeria and ensure punishment where life is lost in the course of one’s employment or in the courses of carrying out his duties.
This Bill highlights certain salient points as follows:
- It provides that an organization will be held guilty of an offence under the Act if its activities are managed and organized in a way that causes a person’s death, and is a gross breach of the duty of care which the organization owes to the deceased.
- Examples of such organizations are: companies/corporations, all ministries, agencies and government parastatals, a police force, a partnership, trade union and an association that is an employer.
- The act of the organization leading to a breach of the relevant duty of care owed to employees must have been substantial to warrant the organization being guilty of the offence of corporate manslaughter.
- Also, this offence has to have been committed in Nigeria before it is regarded as Corporate Manslaughter under the Act.
- The penalty for Corporate Manslaughter is that the organization is liable to pay a fine upon conviction. Although the Act does not state the amount to be paid.Only the High Court has jurisdiction over an offence of Corporate Manslaughter.
- Basically an organization owes a duty to do certain things. These culminate in what is called the relevant duty of care. Examples of this duty of care are: the duty owed to its employees or other people working for and rendering services to the organization, a duty owed by the organization in connection with carrying out construction or maintenance operations, a duty owed in connection with using or keeping of any plant, vehicle or other thing.
- It further provides that the duty of care remains in force regardless of any provision that seeks to exclude the duty of care on the basis that an employee or other person to whom the organization owes a duty of care, has accepted a risk or harm. It still subsists even though both parties (the one who owes the duty of care and the one to whom the duty of care is owed) are jointly engaged in unlawful conduct.As much as the bill is headway in the right direction for Nigeria, it is yet to be passed into law. Apart from this Bill, there are existing laws which generally govern safety at the workplace in Nigeria.
An employer generally owes a duty to take reasonable care to ensure that his employees are not exposed to risk of injury at work. The employer should do this to the best of his judgment and belief. Failure to take such reasonable care exposes the employer to an action for negligence. This means that the employee may seek compensation for the negligence of the employer resulting in his injuries.
The position of the law is that the injured employee who alleges that the employer was negligent has a duty to prove same. He must also show that his employer’s negligence solely caused or substantially contributed to his injury. This connection must be made.
The employer is also given a chance to make a defense to the allegations against him. In order for his defense to succeed, he must prove that it was not his negligence that caused the employee’s injury. In certain instances, the employer may also raise defenses to the effect that: when an employee enters into a contract of employment he impliedly agrees to take the risks of the employment upon himself; or that the employee failed to do something which contributed to the injury he sustained. Whether these defenses will succeed or not depends on the peculiarities of each case.
There are also laws which provide for the compensation of employees who are injured at work and to and from the place of their employment. One of such laws is the Employees’ Compensation Act 2010 which provides for compensation for all employees whether in the private or public sector with the exception of Members of the Armed forces. We shall discuss this law in more detail in a subsequent article.