Speaking at a conference on safety enforcement and directors’ duties, Barber called for statutory health and safety duties to be set for directors. He said: “A statutory duty on directors is high on the TUC’s agenda.
Barber pointed to recent statistics from the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) which revealed that 241 workers died at work in the last year for which figures are available, 2006-07 – the highest number for five years. Most of those deaths (88) occurred in the service industries, with a further 77 deaths in construction.
Barber added that many thousands more workers died because of asbestos exposure, in work related road accidents, through workplace cancers, as well as those who suffered heart attacks as a result of overwork or stress.
“Nobody knows exactly how many people die prematurely every year as a result of work, but is certainly well over 20,000 a year – and every single one of these deaths was avoidable,” he said.
“The HSE estimates that over 80% of injuries are a direct result of management failures. This means that the vast majority of deaths are simply down to management breaking health and safety laws,” he continued.
“The same is true of the 2.2 million people who are suffering from an illness they believed was caused or made worse by their work. To me this is a crime wave on a massive scale. A crime wave that screams out for action,” Barber added
He called for strong enforcement action, supported by advice and guidance, adding that the government had been taken in by employer lobbying about so-called ‘red tape’. “They set up the Hampton Review of Regulation, but surprisingly its remit did not include looking at the advantages of regulation to the victims of corporate corner-cutting,” Barber concluded.
From April 2008, the new Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 will come into force. The Act reflects what appears to be the public’s view, that companies and managers should be held more directly responsible for their employees’ safety.