Almost one in two van operators are leaving themselves open to unlimited fines through ignorance of corporate manslaughter laws, according to a new survey.

Of 300 businesses questioned by business insurance company Axa, 45% admitted they were not aware of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.

The research also revealed failings in the administration of paperwork covering vans and their drivers, unchecked damage to vans’ bodywork and windscreens and a lax attitude to carrying out maintenance work to ensure vehicles are safe to operate.

Axa claimed 30% of businesses had not checked the insurance cover of their van drivers and 8% had failed to check company van drivers held valid driving licences.

Axa said one in four operators were running vans with medium-sized dents while 14% of vans were being put to work with large and unassessed areas of damage that could potentially affect their safety.

In addition Axa found 22% of vans to have unrepaired damage to exhausts, bumpers or mirrors and 55% to have chipped windscreens.

The study revealed 9% of operators fail to service their vans on an annual basis while 6% do not service their vans at all.

Axa Business Insurance boss Darrell Sansom said: “Corporate manslaughter is a serious charge that carries an unlimited fine. While the number of businesses unaware of its existence is alarming, our research shows negligence is apparent among both those that are aware and unaware.”

Sansom warned businesses to keep on top of health and safety legislation to avoid leaving themselves exposed to prosecution.

“Complacency can carry a heavy price-tag,” he said.