Fewer U.K. Workplace Inspections Put Employees At Risk, Report Says

May 25, 2006
Safety inspections have dropped dramatically in the United Kingdom since 2002, increasing the chances of workers dying or becoming injured or sick on the job, according to a report issued by a Great Britain-based labor union.

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) released previously unpublished figures from the U.K.'s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) showing that company visits by safety inspectors have decreased by about 25 percent over the past 3 years from 74,000 per year in 2002 to 55,000 in 2005.

The TUC-backed health and safety journal Hazards claims HSE was trying to conceal the figures from the public.

In its report, "Sure We'll Be Safe: HSE is Walking Away From Inspections," TUC states that U.K. employers are less likely to be inspected, prosecuted or convicted of safety crimes, and less likely to receive notice from an HSE inspector demanding safety improvements.

"Breaking safety laws is a crime with possible life or death consequences," said report author Rory O'Neill. "However HSE dresses it up, fewer inspections amount to less justice."

The figures also show that employers who commit safety offenses against their staff are unlikely to ever find themselves in court. In 2004, HSE took legal action against 960 companies, but in 2005, the figure fell to 712 prosecutions.

According to the report, with more than 30,000 fatal or major injuries being reported to the HSE that year, employers had a one in 40 chance of being prosecuted for workplace accidents in 2005.

Over the same 2-year period, the number of convicted employers fell from 887 to 673, and the number of HSE-issued safety improvement notices fell from 11,295 to 8, 445. According to the report, the shift away from more-dangerous blue collar jobs to safer white collar jobs is "masking a serious official failure to make significant inroads into the numbers of deaths and serious injuries at work."

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said "inspections and prosecutions are the most effective way to stop employers from breaking the law" and was shocked to see how negligent employers had the "freedom to neglect safety rules."

The HSE has said the reasons for fewer prosecutions were a combination of a decline in the number of accidents and reported illnesses and better targeting of resources. This meant that fewer incidents were investigated, but a greater number led to prosecution.

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