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We've all been there at one time or another, covering the work of a fellow employee due to an injury or illness. We get through it but it certainly adds a little more pressure.

But workplace illnesses or injuries have a far greater effect on not only us as employees, but companies in general and the economy as a whole according to the latest figures released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).  

According to the HSE, a staggering 27.3million working days were lost over the financial year period 2014/2015 due to work-related injury or ill health. Although not everybody is entitled to sick pay, a large proportion of those 27.3m days require to be paid for by employers. There is therefore a great deal of cost incurred by an employer simply paying for employees' absence. There are additional costs, such as reduced productivity or the hiring of temporary replacement workers.

With such cost, you’d think there would therefore be real incentive to protect the workforce and prevent all work place accidents from occurring, however, the majority of work-related injuries are entirely preventable and only occur as a result of a blatant disregard for health and safety laws.

The cost of these workplace illnesses and ill health amounts to over £14billion. To put it mildly, an obscene amount of money - money that could be better used in the economy to tackle our housing crisis, prevent benefits cuts and address budget concerns within the NHS.

The answer to the problem is simple. If adherence to health and safety laws was strictly enforced the vast majority of these accidents would be prevented and not only is this of benefit to the economy, it is also of great benefit to each individual within a workforce.

As Judith Hackitt, HSE Chair, eloquently puts it “behind the statistics are people, their families, friends, work colleagues, directly affected by something that’s gone wrong, that is usually entirely preventable”. There is a relatively simple concept at play here, the increased adherence to health and safety law will have benefits for the employee, employer and for the economy in general. It really is the proverbial “win-win” situation and one that simply needs reiterating to any employers tempted to cut corners with health and safety.’  

Rather worryingly, however, the Government at Westminster has taken a blasé approach to the importance of health and safety law over the course of the build up to the General Election and subsequently. There is a perception amongst the Tories that health and safety law is merely “red tape” - a hindrance to commerce and the economy. In reality, the perception couldn’t be more wrong but it is a myth which proves difficult to dispel amongst the privileged party members. The reality is that health and safety law is vital to protect employees and to ensure that businesses continue to profit by ensuring a sufficient and able workforce. The news stories earlier this year that the Tories are considering a further £10bn of cuts to health and safety “red tape” in a further Enterprise Bill are more than alarming and seem thoroughly misguided.  

Although the figures have improved over the course of the last year, if a further Enterprise Bill were to be enacted, with a similarly draconian section 69-style provision, the effectiveness of Britain’s health and safety laws could be cut further. Undoubtedly this  would lead to greater cost to the economy as a whole.

Thompsons Solicitors, with our trade union partners and the STUC are committed to campaigning for law reform to improve our country’s health and safety record.

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