Migrant Workers 'Face Much Higher Risk' From Workplace Incidents

New report reveals higher workplace risk for migrants

31.03.2009

Migrant workers are more likely to be killed in the workplace than their colleagues from the UK with the construction sector having the worst record on safety, new figures reveal for the first time.

Research carried out by the Centre for Corporate Accountability and published by legal experts at Irwin Mitchell shows that migrant workers employed in the construction sector are at least twice as likely to die at work than those from the UK.

The report, which makes the figures public for the first time and was compiled following Freedom of Information requests to the Health and Safety Executive, shows that a dozen migrant workers died in the construction industry in the year 2007/08 – at least double the figure expected and a six-fold increase in the number who died just five years earlier.

The 12 deaths comprised 17% of the total number of fatalities in the sector last year – more than double the HSE’s estimate of migrants making up around 8% of the total construction sector workforce.

Migrant deaths in other sectors is also on the increase, with the number of fatalities of non-UK workers up from nine in 2005/6 to 18 in 2007/8 and the proportion also doubling from 4.1% to 7.9% in the same period, against figures showing that 5.4% of the total workforce comprises migrants.

No official information is currently available on the level of injuries to migrant workers, as the HSE does not record nationality in injury cases, though estimates put the figure as high as 11% - again, double the expected level.

The issue of migrant worker safety shot to public prominence with the deaths of 21 Chinese cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay in 2004 but legal experts at Irwin Mitchell are now calling on the HSE and the Government to do more to ensure the safety of non-UK employees.

The CCA and Irwin Mitchell urged the HSE to publish all the data it has on migrant worker deaths and to commission urgent research into why migrant workers face a higher risk in the construction industry than UK workers.

The report also calls for nationalities to be recorded in all workplace injury cases and for the jurisdiction of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, established after the Morecambe Bay incident, to be extended to cover the construction sector to keep tighter control on the people engaging labour for building projects.

Colin Ettinger, partner and an expert in workplace injuries at Irwin Mitchell, said: “These figures are a matter of considerable concern. Every employer has a duty to ensure that staff are able to work safely, wherever they’re employed, and it’s a real worry to see that people coming to the UK to work are at more risk of injury, or even worse, being killed, than their UK colleagues.

"In the construction sector, if the various safety regulations are complied with, there should be no fatalities.  When you look at the figures, it shows that some employers must be breaking the law. Otherwise, how on earth is this happening?"

Mr Ettinger, who also expressed concern over the number of deaths in the construction industry generally, added: “The HSE has taken a greater interest in this issue but it’s clear from this report that more work and resource is needed."

The report also found that:

  • Workers dying over a seven-year period came from 24 different countries, the majority from Eastern Europe: 16 from Poland, and two each from Ukraine, Romania and the Czech Republic
  • Most died in the construction sector, with 24 fatalities, along with 11 in the services sector and six in agriculture.
  • None of the cases which have reached inquest have resulted in unlawful killing verdicts, with the majority (28) recording an accidental death verdict
  • Over two-fifths (44%) of the deaths studied led to prosecutions – higher than the UK average of 30%, which the report concludes may be due to employers in these cases being guilty of more culpable failures.

Grazyna Trybala, wife of Janusz Trybala, who died while at work on a Waste Energy Plant in Maidstone, Kent, in July 2005, said: "I wish that employers would pay as much attention to the health and safety of their employees as they pay to results of their work. The constant pressure of achieving best results, improper work management, not taking health and safety regulations seriously result in tragic situations like this.

"We need to remember that human life is priceless. For many, Janusz’s death is just another statistical case. For me, it is an irreversible tragedy that has changed my life forever. I have lost a loving husband and I am still suffering from the consequences of the loss. The accused companies should be absolutely found guilty. Perhaps this will prevent other accidents from happening."