The latest figures released by the Health and Safety Executive show that based on their provisional data, the HSE have recorded a 144 persons dying in workplace accidents in 2017/2018 period. In addition to this, 33 members of the public were killed by workplace activities during the same period.
The figures show that there has been an increase on the previous year from 135 deaths and whilst the HSE will seek to reassure us this is an increase that could be dealt with by statistical variances, it may also be something more troubling.
The figures show that the longstanding downward trend which began in 1981 where 495 persons were killed at work has levelled off. In fact the number of deaths has remained broadly flat for some time and now we have an increase.
The development has always been of concern to those who regulate health and safety in the UK. Their strategies of recent years have been designed to ensure the current plateau of deaths does not turn into an upward trend.
Is there anything behind these statistics that we need to worry about?
Does it perhaps suggest that the strategies and campaigns to reduce the number of fatal accidents are no longer valid, is there an increased acceptance by those in the workplace that health and safety arrangements are accepted and complied with on paper and perhaps not in practice, or is it simply that as activity in the economy increases from the days of recession the chance of more accidents increase based on that increased activity?
The answer may be a combination of one or more of these, or some other unknown factor or factors. However, the simple truth is that organisations are still exposed to the possibility that one of their workers could be killed whilst at work or a member of the public affected by their activities could die as a result of them.
Those of you who are playing the odds may still think there are good chances that an organisation will not be affected by fatal accidents. However, these tragic events do befall organisations on a daily basis and without a comprehensive system of health and safety arrangements, organisations have no hope of not just of preventing an accident in the first instance, but certainly not defeating any criminal prosecution or civil proceedings that may well follow it.
If cynically, we accept that you can never remove the possibility of all accidents and some of them becoming fatal accidents, then the idea is that an organisation and those managing it must do all that they can to ensure that their systems protect themselves and the organisation from the inevitable scrutiny that follows such an accident and/or death.
Of course, organisations can exist in the most dangerous field of activities for decades without any issue, unfortunately with the consequences of conviction for corporate manslaughter meaning fines running into the millions or terms of imprisonment for individuals who own and/or manage organisations, I would not be advocating reliance on the law probability as your best defence as opposed to a well-constructed health and safety management system!