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Efforts To Cut Workplace Deaths ‘Undermined By Law Changes’

Lawyers Share Concerns For Future Despite Drop In Fatalities During 2012/13


By Rob Dixon

Workplace injury lawyers have warned that recent law changes could undermine all of the hard work put in to improve health and safety at work in England and Wales in recent years, following the release of new statistics showing a drop in the number of people killed at work.

The figures published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have revealed that the provisional number of people fatally injured at work in 2012/13 dropped to 148 from the finalised death toll of 172 recorded over the previous 12-month period.

A high number of worker fatalities were seen in the construction (39) and agriculture (29) industries over the period analysed, while an increase was seen in the number of fatal injuries to workers in the waste and recycling sector.

The research has come just a few months after the Government introduced the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act, which overturned legislation in place for more than a century making it harder for employees to seek legal redress when they are injured at work.

While Irwin Mitchell’s specialist workplace injury team have welcomed the fall in work-related deaths, they have warned that the figures still show this is the wrong time to tamper with regulations that have ensured victims and the families of those killed at work have been able to gain justice for decades.

David Urpeth, national head of workplace injury and illness at Irwin Mitchell, said: “These latest figures reflect how so much excellent work has been done in recent years to promote health and safety and also ensure employers who have failed in their duty have been held to account.

“However, the terrible truth is that nearly 150 people still lost their lives at work and behind everyone one of these deaths is a family or community who have been left devastated by the loss of a loved one.

“Any number of fatalities and injuries at work is too many, yet the Government’s recent changes to the law through the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act only serve to make it much more difficult for those whose lives have been transformed by work accidents to get the answers and the justice they deserve.

“While we welcome moves to cut unnecessary red tape, often the biggest deterrent stopping businesses from cutting corners with safety is the threat of legal action.  Our primary concern is that the increased difficulty of holding employers to account will only be to the detriment of safety and, ultimately, this will lead to the number of reported workplace deaths and injuries rising in the future.”

Explaining recent changes, David outlined how the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act meant employees who are seriously injured in work accidents would have to prove themselves that their employer had been negligent in a civil case, regardless of whether the company has been found to breach health and safety legislation.

He outlined: “In our eyes, this can only lead to two things – the dilution of safety standards at work and those affected by such problems being less likely to gain much needed compensation to help with their recovery and get their lives back on track.

“Many people may not be able to access the information they need to prove employers are at fault in a civil court, while most will certainly not have the resources that employers enjoy when defending a case.

“The change was the wrong message to send out at – as these statistics show – a critical time for health and safety in the UK. We can only hope that all of the good work done so far is not undermined by the recent changes.”

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