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Solicitor Patrick McGuire of Thompsons believes 'NO'! "Better that 10 guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer." The famous quote from the English Jurist William Blackstone tells us that some things are so fundamental that society demands an absolute standard.

There can be no doubt that society expects such an absolute standard in the field of health and safety: one accident is too many; and one workplace death is an affront to the times which we live.

I accept that some accidents are just that, accidents where no one can be blamed. The simple, and very sad, fact is that accidents where there is fault and culpability continue to occur each year at an unacceptable and an alarming rate.

Business leaders can only be deemed to be taking health and safety seriously when that absolute standard is met and when workplace accidents and deaths are consigned to a footnote in history.

But in fact the rate of accidents and deaths is not even reducing. In my practice, I see the same types of accidents, in the same workplaces, time after time. Employers are not learning the lessons of the past.

It is not as if it is difficult to understand what is required. Through our membership of the European Union we have, on paper, the most robust set of health and safety legislation in the world. The body of health and safety laws is very simple, very clear and very comprehensible. To be frank, you could classify health and safety legislation as an idiot's guide to workplace safety. Yet despite this very clear and very helpful guidance, companies are still not doing what has to be done to eradicate what is one of the last blights of our society.

What I am saying does not apply to all employers. There are many good ones who are no doubt losing a commercial edge to competitors who are not prepared to waste profit ratios on prevention measures.

There are two very simple facts which I see daily in my practice. Firstly, unionised workplaces are safer workplaces. Not perfect perhaps, but statistically safer places to work. Why is it, you may wonder, that bad employers do everything, within and sometimes out with the law, to avoid their workplaces becoming unionised?

Secondly, there remains a significant problem with under reporting. Only 40% of workplace accidents are reported to the HSE. We require honesty before we can begin to make our workplaces safer.

So, until a greater number of our workplaces are unionised; employers stop pretending that there is no problem by hiding behind non-reporting; and until all employers treat health and safety legislation as their bible and not, as some do, their dart boards, then the answer to this debate can only be 'NO'.

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