Workplace Deaths Increase ‘Cannot Become An Annual Event’

PM’s Approach To Health And Safety ‘Concerning’

06.01.2012

Leading industrial accident lawyers have called on the Prime Minister to rethink his views on health and safety and questioned the timing of the claims, which come just days after new figures revealed an alarming increase in workplace deaths across Great Britain.

David Cameron claimed in a speech that ministers are looking to “kill off” the “monster” of health and safety, stating that it threatens business growth and has created fear in organisations across Great Britain.

But his comments came a week after the HSE revealed that 171 people died at work across 2010/11 - an increase on the 147 deaths recorded in the previous 12-month period. The construction, agriculture, waste and recycling industries were found to have the highest rates of fatal injuries, accounting for 50, 34 and nine deaths respectively.

And with half-year stats revealing that 114 workplace fatal injuries were reported to the HSE between April and September 2011 alone,  David Urpeth, national head of workplace injury at Irwin Mitchell, warned that the Prime Minister’s proposals run the risk of seeing those figures rise even further in the future.

He said: “The fact that 171 people lost their lives while at work in 2010/11 is a shocking statistic and a number of terrible incidents across 2011 – including the terrible mining accidents and Chevron refinery explosion in Wales – have shown that health and safety at work remains a fundamentally important issue.

“It must be remembered that behind every one of these deaths there is a family or community which has suffered a devastating loss.

“Because of this, it is worrying to see Mr Cameron’s views at this time, particularly when reforms to health and safety and changes to the structure of the HSE are high on the agenda.

“It is also a concern to see reference to a ‘compensation culture’, especially as the Lofsted Review in November stated that the concept has been reviewed over the past few years and confirmed there is no evidence for its existence.

“We understand the pressure that the HSE is under and any review to ensure needless bureaucracy is cut and clear, simplified guidance on safety is available to employers must be welcomed. However, it is also vital that a focus remains on effective health and safety – including awareness campaigns and initiatives, as well as efforts to hold to account employers which have failed on the issue.”

Urpeth explained that there is also an argument the HSE figures fail to fully highlight the true extent of injury and illness in the workplace.

He outlined: “The HSE has confirmed that some work-related deaths, including road traffic accidents involving workers and those in which people are killed while travelling by air or sea, may be excluded from these figures as they may be reported under other legislation.

“This clearly raises question marks over whether these figures are generally a true reflection of the failings being seen in workplace health and safety across Great Britain.

“What is very clear though is that, when it comes to workplace injury, there are no isolated cases. These statistics highlight what we see so often in our work – that quite simply people working across all industries are affected by work-related illness and injury issues.”

Urpeth added that one issue the government must consider is the formation of an Employers’ Liability Insurance Bureau, to ensure those hurt as a result of failings by uninsured employers can gain justice.

He outlined: “The Motor Insurance Bureau has been in operation for around 40 years, meaning anyone injured by an uninsured driver has been able to get help. People are expected to work, so why is there not a similar body in place? This issue needs to be addressed as soon as possible.”