Business managers from company directors to sole traders could personally face fines and imprisonment under a proposed shake-up of the law on involuntary manslaughter.
The proposal is part of a package of reforms recommended by the Law Commission and includes the creation of a new offence of corporate killing.
This could apply to large scale accidents when an investigation subsequently reveals that managerial negligence was a serious contributory factor.
David Lewis, partner in law firm Weightmans, said the proposed law change is potentially groundbreaking.
"The government's preference is for the new offence to apply to all business undertakings, not just companies."
He warned a conviction for corporate manslaughter will lead to personal proceedings against senior individuals in the guilty organisation.
"The penalties envisaged are as severe as possible imprisonment or a ban from holding a managerial position.
However, he said the Law Commission suggests the offence of corporate killing should require significant proof of a "management failure". Lewis concluded: "Never has the need for effective management systems been more important."
He added: "Health and safety professionals must ensure that senior managers are aware of the implications of the proposed changes now, before it's too late."
The closing date for submissions on the Law Commission's proposals is September 1.