UK’s Lost Workers A Timely Reminder Of Safety Cuts Impact

Lawyer Voices Concern Ahead Of Workers’ Memorial Day


The UK is being given a timely reminder this week of the devastating impact that workplace deaths and serious injuries have on the lives of countless families.

Workers’ Memorial Day is taking place across the UK on 28th April 2011, which leading industrial accident and illness lawyer David Urpeth, from national law firm Irwin Mitchell, says will highlight the potential problems caused by cuts to key Government safety departments.

Urpeth, the firm’s national head of workplace injuries said the true impact of significant cuts to the HSE and Environmental Health departments remained to be seen – but workers, and their families needed more support, not less.

“Workers’ Memorial Day is a stark and chilling reminder of the hundreds of lives that are lost needlessly each year and of the knock-on effects as families across the country are left devastated,” Urpeth added.

“Yet it comes at a time when funding for the HSE is being cut to the tune of around 35 per cent, alongside further cuts to Environmental Health departments.”

“The health and safety message has, gradually, been hitting home in workplaces across the country and although death rates have still been too high, they have been improving.”

According to the HSE, total workplace injuries have fallen by an annual average of 4.4 per cent over the last five years. Between March 2004 and July 2008, total workplace injuries fell from 387,443 to 319,999, a fall of 4.4 per cent.

However, according to an HSE press release as recent as June 30, 2010, 11 workers were killed in London alone between April 2009 and March 2010, a figure Urpeth says is ‘simply unacceptable’. 

He said: “Any loss of life as a result of negligence is simply unacceptable and on Worker’s Memorial Day it emphasises the importance of treating health and safety as a top priority.

“The HSE will now be far less able to carry out inspections and proceed with prosecutions for those who ignore the rules and put workers lives at risk. Can we really expect safety standards to improve, and the death and injury rate to fall, when employers who break the rules, are becoming far less likely to be punished?

“It will increasingly be the case that companies are being expected to self-regulate, which is never good enough. While most employers are responsible and take the safety of their staff seriously, it must not be left to chance that they will all stick to the rules and regulations.

“There is also the concern that less scrupulous or rogue employers will spot the opportunity to cut even more corners on safety and yet more innocent lives could be lost at work.

“However, now, as we gather to remember those who have died at work, it is more urgent than ever for employers to treat safety as the highest possible priority.”

He urged the Government to press on with plans to form an Employers’ Liability Insurance Bureau (ELIB) which would protect workers left ill or seriously injured, in cases where no insurer could be found.

He added: “Our cases often highlight the problems caused when insurers cannot be found and setting up an ELIB would provide invaluable support to people left injured or ill. It would, of course, still be considerably preferable if nobody was injured or made ill at their workplace, but an ELIB would help those with nowhere to turn when the worst happens.”

Notes to editors:

The most recent available HSE figures show that, across the UK:
- 2249 people died from Mesothelioma in 2008 and thousands more from other occupational cancers and diseases
- 152 workers were killed at work, a rate of 0.5 fatalities per 100,000 workers

By industry, fatalities in 2009/10 occurred in:
- Construction (42 fatalities)
- Agriculture (38)
- Utilities/mining (6)
- The service industry (41)
- Manufacturing (25)