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Lawyers Demand Action to Halt Workplace Deaths Toll

Workers’ Memorial Day ‘A Stark Reminder About The Importance Of Health And Safety’ Say Lawyers


By Suzanne Rutter

A leading workplace injury lawyer is calling for the Government to take action to help cut the workplace deaths toll as families and friends get set to gather on Workers’ Memorial Day (28 April) to honour their loved ones killed because of accidents or illness at work.

David Urpeth, National Head of Workplace Injuries and Illness at law firm Irwin Mitchell, highlighted two areas in particular where the government could make a significant contribution to saving lives in the future.

He urged the government to:
• reconsider a list of sectors excluded from unannounced inspections by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE);

• tackle dangerous asbestos still present in public buildings such as schools and town halls.

Research by a leading Occupational Health professor has found that over half of the 258 workplace deaths in Britain in HSE-enforced workplaces between April 2011 and October 2012 occurred in sectors which will no longer be subjected to unannounced inspections*.

David Urpeth said: “Workers Memorial Day is a stark reminder of just how many people lose their lives simply by going to work and doing their job. Each and every workplace death has a devastating impact on family and friends and we believe that the Government should be doing everything in its power to ensure that employees can feel as safe as possible.

“While we welcome plans to promote growth and cut red tape for businesses, this can’t be at the expense of putting people’s lives at risk.

“Inspections by the HSE, particularly unannounced checks, have historically had a significant impact on safety because employers are aware of the importance of meeting their responsibilities all year round, as well as the threat of being held to account if failings are identified.

“It seems absurd that the majority of workplace deaths occur in sectors now exempt from unannounced inspections. We urge the Government to carefully reconsider their decision to ensure workers from all industry sectors are properly protected in the workplace. We are concerned that without stringent inspections for all sectors, employees will continue to be put at risk.”

The latest figures from the HSE also show that over 4,000 people die from asbestos related diseases alone each year and Irwin Mitchell is calling for action to remove the dangerous material from all public buildings.

David added: “Workplace illnesses have long been associated with heavy industry as well as joiners, electricians, factory workers, ship builders, railway carriage builders and plumbers. However we are seeing an increasing number of people from other sectors, such as teachers, falling victim to diseases such as mesothelioma which is caused by asbestos exposure.

“The Government must take action to tackle the problem of asbestos which is estimated to be in 75 per cent of school buildings. As we remember those who have suffered already, more must be done to protect others in future who may come into contact with asbestos in public buildings, such as old schools and town halls which have started to deteriorate and crumble with many workers inhaling the lethal fibres as they carry out their work.”