According to the Trades Union Congress more people die every year at work than in war. In Great Britain last year 1.3 million working people we suffering from an illness they believed was caused or made worse by their current or previous employment, 555,000 of these were new cases.
Can it be acceptable in 21st century Britain, 37 years after the Health and Safety at Work Act was passed, that health and safety is still not taken seriously by some employers? Most workers who are injured at work do not die of mystery illnesses or freak accidents. Workers are injured every day in their work places because it is too easy for employers to put health and safety to the back of their minds and decide that is not a priority, merely the state imposing ever increasing regulation on business. The 2009 Helicopter Disaster, costing 16 men’s lives, is just one example of why that analysis is wrong and why health and safety should always be a priority for employers.
No one should anyone be in doubt that cuts to the Health and Safety Executive and Local Authority resources will reduce inspection and enforcement activity having a devastating effect on working people, leaving their work places ever more dangerous. In the current climate staff who keep their jobs in the face of cuts will be expected to do more work with an increasing risk of hazards including stress, manual handling and lone working.
Workers turn up to work every day because for many it is an economic necessity. They do not turn up to work and expect to be placed at risk through the negligence of their employers. It should not be too much to ask that work places are safe and that workers do not put themselves at risk merely by starting their shift.
We have to learn from health and safety failures and this is something that will never be done while we have a slow and cumbersome justice system where getting answers for bereaved families or injured workers is not seen as the priority. We need a justice and inquiry system that adequately penalises employers for their negligence.
The Damages (Scotland) Act 2011 will undoubtedly improve rights to damages in respect of personal injuries and wrongful death by overhauling the system and providing a fair level of compensation in cases of wrongful death, without the need for unnecessarily long and distressing court cases. However, for those who have suffered accidents at work resulting in mental or physical injury we still have a long way to go. Lawyers, court actions and disputes with insurance companies are the norm in personal injury actions, but for the ordinary worker this process is unfamiliar, lengthy and expensive. It places a terrible stress on them and their families. This process must be streamlined to ensure that victims of accidents at work get the compensation they deserve without the cost and stress of lengthy personal injury actions.