Individual managers won’t be held liable in cases tried under the new corporate killing law, according to its latest incarnation.

The long-delayed corporate manslaughter bill, which finally got a Commons first reading on Friday, will instead hold the corporation responsible if a death occurs as the result of “gross negligence” – so the only possible punishment is a fine.

In cases tried under the new law, the prosecution must prove that mismanagement by “senior managers” is to blame for the fatality. Currently they have to pin a corporate manslaughter charge on an individual identified as a “controlling mind”. The difficulty in achieving that led to calls for the new law.

Businesses and trade unions are broadly supportive of the new bill, which has been on the cards since it was first formally proposed in 2000.

“So far the Government has taken a sensible approach and rightly continues to focus on collective responsibility and company liability rather than trying to hold one person accountable for a corporate failure,” said CBI deputy director-general John Cridland.

Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary, said: “This bill has been a long time coming. We will study the detail, but hope it will make it easier to bring prosecutions against firms whose negligence has contributed to the death of employees or members of the public.”

The first reading is the official launch of a bill through parliament and follows the publishing of the Government draft back in 2005. The first time parliament get to seriously debate the bill will come at its second reading in October, followed by changes in committee, a third reading and a trip to Lords.

Unions and business organisations are lobbying for changes along that way. “The other principle issue is the need for clarity in establishing whether or not a company has behaved in a grossly negligent manner. Much work will have to be done to ensure the final shape of the legislation gets the legal detail right.” said the CBI’s Cridland.

The TUC wants individuals included in prosecution. “We urge the Government to look at the issue of placing specific legal health and safety duties on directors of companies either through this Bill or separately,” said Barber.