Sunday 28 April is International Workers Memorial Day. It is the annual opportunity to reflect on those who have lost their lives, as well as those injured through accident, or exposure to dangerous substances, in the course of their employment.
This year’s theme is removing dangerous substances from the workplace. Of course, there have been regulations in force since 1992 that deal with controlling dangerous substances. These regulations originated in Europe and have improved conditions for workers across the United Kingdom, leading to less people losing their lives at work.
It is perhaps appropriate to consider this impact, particularly when our relationship with the rest of Europe continues to be so uncertain.
The year before the first European referendum, and also the year in which the Health and Safety at Work Act was passed in1974, saw over 336,000 non-fatal injuries reported to the Health and Safety Executive.
By 1992, a raft of regulations, originating in Europe, were introduced into the UK and that figure had reduced to 170,000.
Continuing strengthening of the measures, allied to heightened awareness within workplaces, led to the number of reported injuries reaching 111,000 by 2012.
A reduction of 67%.
When considering the figures since 2012, we need to bear in mind that in that year, the requirement to report injuries was changed from those that involved an absence from work for a period of three days or more, to those that led to a seven day or more absence.
However, the number of reportable accidents has reduced and plateaued over the last few years at around 70,000.
The importance of continued vigilance cannot be overstated. It was therefore very encouraging to see the All Party Parliamentary Group on Working at Height (APPG) produce a balanced and pragmatic report in February this year.
Whilst concentrating on those who work at heights, a number of the recommendations and principles apply equally across the wider workplace environment.
The first recommendation was for enhanced reporting of accidents involving falls. This would include providing more detail about the accident circumstances.
In addition to the provision of further information, serious consideration should be given to reverting to the previous system of reporting accidents involving absences of three days or more.
The second recommendation related to the appointment of an independent body to allow confidential, enhanced and digital reporting of all near misses and accidents that do not qualify for RIDDOR reporting.
This data would be shared with government and industry to inform health and safety policy. This is a sensible policy which again should be extended across all industries.
This point also highlights the issue of underreporting. The Labour Force Survey consistently suggests that around one half of workplace accidents are simply not reported as they should be, which puts the scale of the issue into a sharp context.
A further recommendation was to extend the Fatal Accident Inquiry system within Scotland across the UK.
Inquiries for deaths within the workplace are mandatory. Lessons ought to be learned from every avoidable death, and any measure which facilitates this ought to be welcomed.
The APPG also suggested that further consultation should take place on a couple of issues, notably, a major review of work at height culture. This should include an investigation into the suitability of legally binding financial penalties in health and safety, funds which could be used towards raising awareness and training, particularly in hard to reach sectors.
The question of enforcement has long been a thorny one. The level of prosecution in relation to health and safety breaches has been pitifully low.
Of particular concern is the reluctance of the Crown, especially in Scotland, to prosecute employers for failing to have in place employers liability insurance, which is compulsory, and has been since 1972.
Employers who think avoiding insurance premiums is fine are hardly likely to be investing in health and safety measures, leading to higher incidences of accidents in their workplaces, a point picked up by the APPG.
The time has long since passed for the creation of an Employers Liability Insurers Bureau (ELIB). Similar to the Motor Insurers Bureau, which was created in 1946 to deal with claims on behalf of those people injured by uninsured or untraced motorists, the ELIB would deal with those injured, almost inevitably through no fault of their own, within the workplace, and where no insurance was taken out by the employer or relevant contractor. Any review, such as suggested by the APPG, should certainly consider carefully, the establishment of such a body.
Each of us expects those who go to work to come back in the same condition as when they left. There are proactive steps that we can take to ensure that the number of those injured, or killed, in the workplace is reduced to the absolute minimum. We should be taking those.
After recently announcing their local charity of the year was Support in Mind Scotland, our Kirkcaldy office kicked off their fundraising in style with their annual quiz night. The night managed to raise over £500 for the charity.
The quiz took place on Thursday 18th April once again at the Kirkcaldy Rugby Club.
As well as the quiz which was hosted by our legendary quizmaster Innes Laing, who also happens to be a Partner in the Kirkcaldy office, there was an auction for tickets to Rangers V Hibs at Ibrox as well as the ever popular raffle. The raffle included some spectacular prizes such as a trip on the Maid of the Forth, family tickets to Knockhill and a cut and style at Dom Migele.
Support in Mind Scotland are a charity who provide support and services to those who live with mental health problems or live day to day with a mental illness. They offer a wide range of services across Fife including family support and peer support groups.
Colin Leslie from Support in Mind Scotland said: “We are delighted and grateful that Digby Brown’s Kirkcaldy office have wasted little time in beginning their fundraising efforts for Support in Mind Scotland’s mental health services in Fife. I am glad the quiz night was a roaring success and am sure that this will be the first of many successful events in the coming year.”
Lianda Barnes, Partner in the Digby Brown Kirkcaldy office said: “We are so proud to have raised such a fantastic amount at our first fundraiser of the year. Support in Mind Scotland offer a fantastic range of services to support those who experience difficulties with their mental health.”
Kim Leslie, Partner at Digby Brown, discusses the questions that remain over the rights of victims after the UK Government abolished the ‘same roof rule’, which previously prevented victims from criminal injury compensation if they lived with their abuser.
Victims of violent crimes in the UK can apply for compensation to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme which has operated since 1964. When it was established, the “same roof rule” prevented victims receiving compensation if they lived in the same household as their assailant.
Since then, the rule has been amended - but not for victims who were abused between 1 August 1964 and 1 October 1979 and lived under the same roof as their attacker.
This has been widely challenged by the legal profession across the UK and one case, JT v First-tier Tribunal and CICA , found it was unlawful discrimination and a breach of human rights.
As a result, this led to the rule being abolished and the change of law is expected to come into force at the end of April or early May 2019.
However, it has become clear that this not only abolishes the rule, but allows for those who previously applied to the scheme and were refused on the basis of the same roof rule, an opportunity to reapply.
Figures published indicate that the CICA have refused about 4,000 applicants previously. It is hoped that the CICA contacts those affected to advise that their application can be resurrected, and they can get criminal redress.
You can read the full article on Journal Online: Rights after “same roof”.