Irwin Mitchell Warns That HSE Changes Cannot Stifle Safety Improvements After ‘Unacceptable Increase’ In Workplace Deaths
One of the UK’s leading industrial accident lawyers has expressed concern over standards of at-work safety across the country after an alarming increase in workplace deaths in the second quarter of 2011.
The latest Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures, published at the start of October, show 51 people died at work across the UK from April to June 2011* – the quarterly average in 2010/11 was 42. These figures include the four tragic deaths at the fatal Chevron Refinery explosion in Pembroke in June.
And David Urpeth, Irwin Mitchell’s national head of workplace injuries, said he was incredibly concerned about the latest stats which proved that budget cuts and economic growth must never be prioritised over people’s lives.
The death rate from April to June comes on the back of a year-on-year increase for 2010/11 as a whole – 171 people died at work from April 2010 to March 2011, up from 147 people for the same period in 2009/10.
Urpeth said: “This figure of 51 people dying at work in the early part of the summer is a very troubling increase, significantly above the average death rate. We have to hope that the pattern is not repeated for the rest of the year.
“However, already since June, we have seen the heartbreaking case of the four Welsh miners who died – we can only hope that no more lives are lost needlessly at work.
“Despite some 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.
“Each fatality is an individual with families, not a cold statistic. Politicians and government agencies must remember the devastating impact that these injuries and deaths have on lives across the UK when making key decisions.”
The construction and services industries remain the sectors with the highest death counts – 10 construction workers died from April to June, and 25 people in the services industry, which includes railway workers, died in the same period. The figure includes members of the public who have died on work premises.
Urpeth said the changes to the way the HSE operates, as outlined in its latest strategy earlier this year, runs the risk of putting 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.
He 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 fear the situation will grow worse once the inspection regime is loosened.”
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.
“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 injured whilst working for uninsured employers. Society does not expect people to drive a car, but it does expect people to work. This is an unacceptable inequality which ought to be addressed.”
* The HSE calculates annual figures from April-March each year. Therefore the latest-published figures from April-June 2011 represent Quarter One. The full figures and round-up of stats can be found here: