Fatalities at work in the UK - What are we doing right?

Fatalities at work in the UK - What are we doing right?

31st October 2014

Over the past 40 years the number of people who have lost their lives at work has dropped significantly here in the UK.  From more than 650 deaths every year in 1974 to a record low of 133 according to the latest statistics.  And it’s not just fatalities that are in decline – the number of injuries in work has also decreased considerably – in fact by a massive 77% over the same time period.  From 336,701 injuries in 1974 to 78,222.

So, what has been happening here in Britain?  Why have we experienced such a sharp decline in work related injuries and fatalities?  The more we know about what is causing this situation, the more chance we have of reducing the figures even more by doing more of the same.

In 1974 the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA 1974) was enacted, the creation of the Health and Safety Commission (HSC).  In conjunction with this, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as we know it today was established to regulate health and safety law and work with industry to help organisations manage their health and safety risks effectively. 

Another important function of the HSE is to bring irresponsible employers to justice when health and safety laws are ignored or breached.  Actual enforcement of the Act is often delegated to local authorities under Section 18 which enables a more targeted and decentralised approach to regulation.  Any enforcing authority is allowed to appoint inspectors with a written document listing their powers as evidence of their authority.  Inspectors may be guaranteed indemnity against civil litigation.

An inspector has the power to enter any premises which he/she has reason to believe it is necessary to enter in order to enforce the Act and take with him a police constable if he has reasonable cause to expect any serious obstruction to the execution of his duty.   Following an inspection, the inspector has the authority to issue both Improvement Notices and Prohibition Notices.

Improvement Notices – If an inspector believes that the Act is currently being contravened (or has been contravened and is likely to be so again in the future), he may serve an Improvement Notice:

  • stating that he believes the act is being contravened or will be in future;
  • specifying the relevant provisions of the act, with the reasons why he is of that opinion; and
  • requiring the duty holder to remedy the contravention within a set period, ending not earlier than the period within which an appeal can be brought under section 24.

Prohibition Notices – If an inspector is of the opinion that activities are being carried out (or are likely to be carried out) involving the risk of serious personal injury, he will serve a Prohibition Notice (Section 22):

  • stating that the inspector is of the opinion;
  • specifying the matters which in his opinion give, or will give rise to that risk;
  • where in his opinion any of those matters involves, or will involve a contravention of the Act:
    • stating that he is of the opinion;
    • specifying the relevant statutory provisions; and
    • giving particulars of the reasons why he is of that opinion; and
  • directing that the activities shall not be carried out unless the deficiencies have been remedied.

The Prohibition Notice may either start immediately or and the end of a specified period (Section 22-4).  An Appeal against the Notice may be lodged within 21 days.