International Safety: UK Injury Investigations on the Decline

Nov. 11, 2008
New research published by the United Kingdom’s largest trade union, Unite, shows investigation levels into major worker injuries declined by 43 percent between 2001-2002 and 2006-2007. Only 10.5 percent of major injuries reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) were investigated in 2006-2007, the last year statistics were available.

The research, undertaken by the Centre for Corporate Accountability for Unite, also shows that in the same 5-year period, there was a 69 percent reduction in the number of worker “over-3-day” injuries investigated, a 31 percent decline in the number of “dangerous occurrences” investigated and a 68 percent decline in the number of members of the public injuries investigated.

Unless HSE investigates an incident, it cannot know whether the injury or dangerous occurrence was caused by a health and safety failure. Therefore, a decision not to investigate can result in failures both in relation to prevention and in securing criminal accountability.

Derek Simpson, Unite joint general secretary, said: "This report highlights the need for the government to address the problem accordingly and admit that the HSE needs more money, more resources and more inspectors. We believe the most fundamental right for workers is that they return home from work to their families, healthy and safe.”

Simpson added that the research shows the “significant reductions” in investigations and prosecutions indicate HSE resources may be inadequate.

"Unite activists are bearing the strain caused by such low levels of operating inspectors, and they are continually expected to police their own workplaces,” he said. “However, they are doing a great job, reducing accident rates by half compared to non-unionized workplaces. Unite will continue the campaign to secure new and improved legal rights for safety reps.”

The research shows that there were significant variations in investigation levels between sectors. In 2006-2007, the level of investigation ranged from 24.5 percent in the agricultural sector to 5.3 percent in the services sector. In the construction sector, the sector with the most number of reported deaths, only 14.1 percent of major injuries were investigated, a reduction from 20 percent six years earlier

There was also significant variation in different regions. In 2006-2007, the level of investigation ranged from 14 percent in Scotland to 5.3 percent in London.

About the Author

Laura Walter

Laura Walter was formerly senior editor of EHS Today. She is a subject matter expert in EHS compliance and government issues and has covered a variety of topics relating to occupational safety and health. Her writing has earned awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), the Trade Association Business Publications International (TABPI) and APEX Awards for Publication Excellence. Her debut novel, Body of Stars (Dutton) was published in 2021.

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