Health and Safety Executive Annual Statistics Report 2012/13

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Figures on workplace accidents published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have highlighted the role legislation and regulation have played in making workplaces across Scotland safer in recent years and the dangers to employees of recent reductions in legal protection and health and safety enforcement.

There were 6,708 reported injuries to employees in Scotland in 2012/13, a decrease on the 9,551 that were recorded in 2011/12. 

Digby Brown Solicitors are concerned that the UK Government’s decision to reduce employees’ legal protections and relaxations in both HSE Inspection regimes and reporting thresholds will roll back the progress that has been made in improving workplace safety in recent years, leaving people across Scotland, and the rest of the UK, more vulnerable.

On October 1st, the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act removed civil liability from employers for health and safety breaches, taking the law in this area back to where it was over 100 years ago and leaving employees requiring to establish common law negligence on the part of their employer or other wrongdoer if they are to recover damages.

The HSE issued 813 enforcement notices in Scotland in 2012/13, compared to over 850 in 2011/12.  Only 27 cases related to workplace accidents were prosecuted in Scotland

Changes to the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR), which came into effect on October 1st, mean fewer types of ‘dangerous occurrence’ in the workplace need to be reported.

Digby Brown Partner Gordon Dalyell said:

“Every workplace accident is more than a statistic; it represents an individual who has suffered injury, and loss simply through going to work.  Legislation and regulation to protect people from harm at work has been hard-won over the years. These statistics, and the historical data in this area, show that they have improved safety standards and reduced the number of workplace injuries in Scotland.

“The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act is a deeply regressive piece of  legislation.   The criminal justice system simply does not provide an adequate alternative safeguard – we have seen a continuing trend of declining judicial enforcement of workplace health and safety, further highlighted by another year-on-year fall in workplace accident related prosecutions.

“In such circumstances, the HSE have an even greater responsibility to stand up for workplace health and safety.  The drop in enforcement notices in 2012/13 and other recent evidence on the HSE inspection regimes makes it hard to have confidence that it will do so, particularly bearing in mind the constraints on resources available.

“It is encouraging that the Scottish Courts have, in a number of significant recent cases, upheld employers’ health and safety responsibilities to their employees.  We will continue to stand up for people injured at work to the fullest extent possible. “

In January, a report published by Prof. Rory O’Neill, Professor of Occupational Health Policy Research at Stirling University highlighted a decline in HSE inspections, finding that 37 sectors, many of which have historically higher than average accident rates, are now excluded from unannounced HSE inspections.  In mid-October, the HSE reported that over 1000 construction sites, more than half of those visited in a month-long HSE campaign across the UK, were found to have basic health and safety failings.

In August, the Court of Session issued its opinion in Tracey Kennedy v Cordia (Services) LLP, with Tracey Kennedy being represented by Digby Brown Solicitors, holding that an employer was obliged to assess and identify reasonable risks to health, and where appropriate, take measures to reduce the risk.