COMPANY managers responsible for workplace deaths face being jailed for life under proposals to reform the law on culpable homicide.

Campaigners say it is difficult to hold senior staff to account after deaths caused by safety breaches. Prosecutions usually take place under health and safety legislation and the firm is fined.

But critics believe only a conviction for corporate culpable homicide is appropriate in the most serious of cases. A life sentence would be the most serious penalty.

Richard Baker, the Labour MSP for north-east Scotland, is putting forward a bill that aims to reform the existing law on culpable homicide. It will be launched in Holyrood later this month.

Mr Baker said: "It is long-established that Scots law is not adequately equipped to prosecute employers and managers whose negligence in the workplace results in people losing their lives."

Scotland has the highest rate of work-related fatal accidents in the UK, according to figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Over the last two years 43 workplace fatalities have been investigated by the HSE.

Mr Baker is reviving an attempt for a tougher law on corporate culpable homicide first put forward by Karen Gillon, a former Labour MSP for Clydesdale.

She shelved her bill in the expectation Westminster was to introduce legislation. But the Corporate ­Manslaughter And Corporate Homicide Act 2007 made companies, not directors, liable for fatalities caused by negligence.

Ms Gillon's campaign began after four members of the same family were killed when their home in Larkhall, South Lanarkshire, was destroyed in a gas explosion in December 1999.

Andrew Findlay, 34, wife Janette, 37, and their children Stacey, 13, and Daryl, 11, died in the blast. Gas supply firm Transco initially faced a corporate homicide charge, the first attempted in Scotland, but judges threw the case out. They referred to the difficulty in identifying the "controlling mind" in a large company when responsibilities were delegated.

Mr Baker aims to address these weaknesses in his Bill. Transco was eventually fined £15 million after a prosecution under the Health And Safety At Work Act.

There have been a number of work tragedies claiming several lives in Scotland in the last decade.

They include the Stockline factory explosion in Glasgow, in 2004, in which nine people died, and the Super Puma helicopter accident off Aberdeen in 2009 when 16 men died. A probe into a helicopter crash off Shetland last year in which four died is still going on.

Last week port operator Clydeport was fined £650,000 for health and safety failures after the deaths of three men when the Flying Phantom tug sank in the Clyde in December 2007.

Pat Rafferty, the Scottish secretary of the Unite union, said: "We are repeatedly seeing the failings of a toothless, protracted and non-transparent justice system."

Patrick McGuire, a partner at Thompsons Solicitors, said: "A new corporate homicide Bill enacted by Holyrood will give the Crown Office a very powerful measure to deal with big businesses which put profit before the safety of their employees."

But Neil Carberry, CBI director for employment, said he believed further legislation could mean a less safe environment for workers.

He said: "There are already specific duties on directors in section 37 of the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 that enable the authorities to pursue individual directors where their personal role has contributed to an accident. Those who wilfully neglect their responsibilities to staff should be prosecuted.

"Additional duties would create a kind of 'double jeopardy' that might do more harm than good, as directors may shy away from a shared responsibility for health and safety performance, in favour of one designated director who would face all the risk."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said it looked forward to seeing details of Mr Baker's plan.