While the number of fatal injuries in the workplace has fallen slightly, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is still being called upon to investigate a disturbing number of cases in which an employee has died.
The figures indicate that employers are still not doing enough to ensure the safety of their workers, and workers are continuing to pay for these failings with their lives.
Fatal injury rate
Provisional figures from the HSE show that 173 workers lost their lives in the course of their employment in 2011/12. This equates to a fatal injury rate of 0.6 deaths per 100,000 workers, down from the average figure for the last five years of 0.7 deaths per 100,000 workers.
Some industry sectors have a higher rate of fatal injury than others. HSE figures show that in 2011/12 there were:
Fatal crush injury in colliery
In one incident recently reported by the HSE, an experienced locomotive driver was killed after being crushed by steel pipes.
John Harbron was preparing to unload a pack of 40 steel pipes from a rail-borne car, but when he cut the bands securing them in place they rolled off the car and landed on top of him. Each pipe weighed over 11 stone. He suffered multiple injuries and died at the scene.
HSE carried out an investigation into the incident, and discovered that the pipe packs could not sit evenly on the type of car being used and could become unstable on tilted track.
Failure to take corrective action
There had been at least four previous reports of pipe packs becoming unstable as far back as 18 months before Mr Harbron was killed, but no corrective action was taken.
The company pleaded guilty to breaching Sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It was fined a total of £125,000 and ordered to pay £175,000.
"The dangers were not formally communicated to all the drivers to make them aware of what could happen and as a result they were exposed to a great but avoidable risk on many occasions over a significant period,” commented HSE inspector Peter McGuinness.
He described the failure of the company to act on the concerns of its employees as “a tragic waste with tragic consequences.”
Unsafe working environment
In a separate incident, a worker at a storage and distribution firm was killed when a tall stack of empty wooden pallets fell on top of him.
Marcin Rogala was helping colleagues to gather up fallen pallets from a tall stack that had collapsed in the yard earlier that morning. As they worked, another tall stack toppled over. Mr Rogala’s colleagues managed to jump clear, but he was struck by the pallets, which weighed 36kg each, and died after sustaining multiple injuries.
The subsequent HSE investigation found that management controls over operations in the pallet yard were ineffective, and stock levels were at too high a level. These two factors had combined to create an unsafe working environment where pallets were being stored in too tall stacks.
The company was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay costs of £25,316 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974.