We are informed in this process by work done by the Health and Safety Executive who, as well as having a significant preventative role in dealing with workplace accidents also provide useful statistics. More recently they have published key figures for Britain in 2016/17 for workplace related accidents, injuries and diseases. Whilst there is a great deal worth reading in this, it is useful to summarise some of the key data.
• 137 workers killed at work in accidents.
• 1.3 million working people suffering from a work-related illness.
• 2,542 mesothelioma deaths due to past asbestos exposures (2015).
• 609,000 accident injuries occurred at work according to the Labour Force Survey.
• 159,000 workers suffered from a new case of work-related musculoskeletal disorders.
• 526,000 workers suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety.
• 31.2 million working days lost due to work-related illness and workplace accidents.
• 400,000 working days were lost to work-related lung disease.
• £14.9 billion estimated cost of injuries and ill health from current working conditions (2015/16).
Whilst it does not follow that all accidents at work are the sole responsibility of the employer, there is much that could be done by employers to minimise the prospect of accidents, injuries and disease. It is not possible to extrapolate from these figures what percentage of accidents could have been avoided, but our experience would suggest that this is likely to be high. Looking for example at the fatal accidents the following breakdown suggests a high level of employer liability.
We do not find this surprising having more recently dealt with accidents including:
- moving vehicles involving enormous earth moving vehicles operating amongst smaller vehicles in an open caste mining environment;
- falls from height involving a fall from the top of a tall coal conveyor tower which was struck by a moving vehicle;
- a contractor decommissioning redundant workplace plant being struck on the head by a steel beam;
- a labourer trapped in a collapsed slit trench on a building site;
- a worker checking inside a blocked saw mill machine when the machine was engaged by an unwitting workmate;
- an employee electrocuted by overhead high tension cables when working with a crane underneath.
What conclusions can be drawn from this data? Most experienced accident lawyers have dealt with many of the above scenarios in relation to both fatal and non-fatal workplace accidents. The range and variety of scenarios where accident lawyers may be required has increased with judicial expansion and development of the duty of care and the changing nature of the workplace. It is clearly very encouraging that the number of fatal accidents has declined steadily with improvements in health and safety practices, although the decline of certain types of heavy industry such as ship building over the years and a reduction in manual labour are undoubtedly factors. However, compared to say 30 years ago there has been an increase in psychiatric injury claims as a result of occupational stress. With increasing levels of damages, mesothelioma claims have been increasing as have office work and assembly line claims relating to muscular strains, repetitive strain injuries and carpal tunnel/nerve inflammation arising from badly planned work schedules, poor worker posture or other ergonomic factors.
In dealing with often complex accident claims we seek to identify the cause of an accident with a view to establishing liability. Whilst we are of course seeking to achieve appropriate compensation for the injured party or their families, a familiar outcome sought is that the same fate should not befall another party. We are always hopeful that lessons can be learned and that there can be some continuous improvement. To that end we hope that statistics such as these are viewed not simply as stark figures but rather as useful pieces of information which may reduce the prospect of repetition.