Work-related fatalities and fines increase prompts health and safety warning

Employers have been urged to ensure that the health and safety of their workforce is a priority as fatal work-related injuries and corporate fines for health and safety breaches continued to rise last year.

Analysis by Thomson Reuters Legal Business found that the value of employer fines for health and safety breaches increased to £57.3m in 2017, up 18% on the value for the year before (£48.5m) and more than double that of 2015 (£27m).

The Sentencing Council brought in tougher guidelines for health and safety fines in 2016, which focused on employers’ culpability for the level of harm or risk of harm in the event regulations were breached. This was intended to encourage more organisations to establish the health and safety of their workers as a board-level priority.

But despite the Sentencing Council’s toughened stance, 144 workers died as a result of injuries sustained work between April 2017 and March 2018 – nine more than the year before − according to the Health and Safety Executive.

The construction industry saw the greatest share of fatal injuries across any industry – 39 in 2017/18. This was followed by the agriculture sector (29 fatalities), manufacturing (15), transport and storage (15) and waste and recycling (12).

Mesothelioma – a form of cancer that can develop because of past exposure to asbestos – killed 2,595 people across the UK in 2016, the figures revealed. This was largely a consequence of occupational asbestos exposures that occurred before the building material was banned in the 1980s.

Morag Rea, head of business crime and investigations at online resource Thomson Reuters Practical Law, said the top tiers of management should see any health and safety breaches as a costly mistake.

“The health and safety of the workforce is a business priority, and failure to prioritise is considered a significant business risk.

“Fines for health and safety breaches continue to rise considerably, as companies are held increasingly accountable for failing to adhere to standards,” she said.

The HSE figures showed older workers were more likely to suffer a fatal injury at work. In 2017/18 40% of people who died as a result of a work-related injury were aged 60 or over, even though they made up around only 10% of the workforce.

Recent examples of employers prosecuted for failing to ensure health and safety standards were properly adhered to include a boat manufacturer that was fined after an employee suffered chemical burns and roofing company that received a fine after a worker fractured his skull after falling from height.

The three most common causes of fatal injury were: falls from height – which was responsible for 35 workplace deaths last year – being struck by a moving vehicle (26) and struck by a moving object (23).

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