Lawyer: Rise in Death Figures Proves Worker Safety Must Come First

Irwin Mitchell Warns HSE Changes Cannot Stifle Safety Improvements After ‘Unacceptable Increase’ In Workplace Deaths



Reducing health and safety inspections while scores of people are still being killed or seriously injured at work each year could put more lives at risk, according to the UK’s leading industrial accident lawyers.

The latest Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures show an alarming year-on-year increase in the number of workers who died at work – up to 171 people from April 2010 to March 2011, from 147 people for the same period in 2009/10.

The construction and services industries were worst affected by the rise, with the number of construction-related deaths increasing from 41 to 50 year-on-year, and deaths of services employees, which includes railway workers, increasing from 33 to 47.

David Urpeth, Irwin Mitchell’s national head of workplace injuries, has criticised the ‘unacceptable increase’ in workplace deaths, and says changes to the way the HSE operates, as outlined in its latest strategy in May 2011, must not put even more workers’ lives at risk.

Irwin Mitchell is currently representing several clients who were seriously injured whilst working for employers which, as a result of the incidents, have been investigated and successfully prosecuted by the HSE.

Urpeth said the threat of prosecution remained the most effective deterrent to employers tempted to ignore safety regulations.

The HSE strategy has outlined how compulsory inspections will make way for a more targeted operation, focusing on specific ‘high-risk’ sectors and so-called ‘rogue’ employers. There are also suggestions that the HSE could change its business model and start charging for safety advice.

Urpeth said the latest figures – as well as catastrophes such as the fatal Chevron Refinery explosion in Pembroke in June 2011 – proved that budget cuts and economic growth must never be prioritised over people’s lives.
He said the repercussions of the latest changes to the HSE were still to be felt on the ground – but said nothing should stand in the way of improving safety for UK workers.

“This increase in deaths is simply unacceptable – we all expect safety conditions to improve, not to see that even more families’ lives are being torn apart by avoidable accidents at work,” Urpeth added.

“The HSE is in a difficult position – we understand it is under pressure from Government ministers to reduce the regulatory burden on business, but it cannot ignore its primary function and that is to enforce strict standards of at-work health and safety.

“The latest figures have shown that people are still dying at work under the stricter system – we have to hope the situation will not grow worse once the inspection regime is loosened.

“Despite improvements in attitudes to at-work safety, and a general trend of a reduction of serious injuries, we are still seeing far too many people being killed or injured.

“These are people with families, not cold statistics, and politicians and government agencies must remember the devastating impact that these injuries and deaths have on lives across the UK when making key decisions.”

Urpeth reiterated demands for the Government to set up an Employers’ Liability Insurance Bureau (ELIB), which would provide support to the victims of accidents at work in cases where the employer was not insured.

He said: “The formation of an ELIB is essential to ensure people who are victims of accidents whilst working for uninsured employers are able to seek justice.

“Society does not expect people to drive a car, but it does expect people to work. However, it remains the case that if a motorist is injured by an uninsured driver, then the Motor Insurance Bureau will help the victim – yet there is no such system in place for those inured whilst working for uninsured employers. This is an unacceptable inequality which ought to be addressed.”