The HSE have last week published data revealing a drop in the number of fatalities for workers. The figures revealed that within the period April 2012 to March 2013, 148 employees died, compared to 172 in the previous year. Compared to other industrial countries in Europe, Great Britain had one of the lowest rates of fatalities in the last 8 year period, largely due to legislation in place promoting health and safety in the workplace.
Whilst the reduction in accidents of this type is welcome news, unfortunately, some firms are still disregarding the health of their employees. A brief scan through the headlines this week alone shows that 4 firms have been fined huge sums of money for allowing safety breaches which lead to the death of employees. AETC Ltd of Yeadon was fined £300,000 following the death of Graham Britten, aged 46, in November 2009, who was carrying out maintenance in a vacuum casting furnace when the main isolation valve to the furnace closed suddenly trapping his head. Leeds County Court was told that the HSE had found that the firm had put many employees at risk of death or injury over a period of several years.
Similarly, a prosecution brought against 3 South East firms, heard on the 5th of July, ended with them being fined a total of £685,787 following the death of one employee and six others receiving serious injuries in an accident on the 5th November 2008. The workers were struck by one of 66 heavy argonite gas cylinders which rocketed around a storage facility at up to 170 mph when one of them toppled over, and collided with the others. St Albans County Court heard that Adam Johnston died after being struck by one of the cylinders, which had been stored without their safety-critical protection caps and without being secured in racks. The building in which the incident took place suffered extensive damage.
The Health and Safety Executive are to release further data in October this year, relating to the number of serious injuries incidents which have been reported to them, and will also provide estimates of the numbers of premature deaths caused by harmful exposure in the workplace. The greatest number of workplace fatalities for last year were recorded in the construction industry, with agricultural workers also shown to be at high risk.
Judith Hackitt, the Chair of the HSE stated "Although the number of people killed at work has dropped significantly, last year 148 people failed to return to their loved ones".
The HSE publish guidance for employees which can be accessed on their website, to ensure that they are adopting practices and systems of work which do not put their employees at risk. Whilst many of us take for granted that we will be kept safe at work, and are not in "high risk" professions, let us spare a thought for those who have not been so lucky.
By Pauline Smith, associate executive in the personal injury department