Universities could face unlimited fines for causing death through negligence if they fail to take on board new corporate manslaughter laws, a conference has heard.
A construction expert told the Association of University Directors of Estates that universities were largely unaware of the forthcoming Corporate Manslaughter Bill, which is likely to become law this time next year.
Under the law, an organisation could be found guilty of corporate manslaughter if there were a serious failure of management leading to death. At present, it is difficult to prosecute large organisations for corporate manslaughter because current law requires there to be a "controlling mind" responsible for the failure.
Rudi Klein, chief executive of the Specialist Engineering Contractors'
Group and a visiting professor of construction law at Wolverhampton University, said universities must make sure that staff are properly trained and aware of safety procedures.
He said that universities with good procedures need not be alarmed by the new law, but those with inadequate systems would have to spend time and money improving them. The majority of risks would arise in maintenance, construction, transport, laboratory and catering work.
Universities were told that efficient use of teaching space would enable them to respond more effectively to disasters such as fire or flood.
Malcolm Stokes, managing consultant with PA Consulting, said most universities could use their space more efficiently through better timetabling. He said: "If you get into the habit of squeezing more out of your space beforehand, you will be more resilient when disaster strikes."