The risks facing workers across Scotland would appear to be increasing rather than falling, as the latest provisional figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reveal that 20 workers lost their lives while at work in Scotland last year - an increase of six on the previous year.
The HSE has expressed its disappointment at the figures, and has called on business to rethink workplace safety provisions and to focus on real risk in an attempt to bring the numbers down.
"Health and safety in the workplace needs to be taken seriously,” said David Snowball, HSE Director for Scotland & Northern England. “I hope that in 2013 employers will tackle the real rather than the trivial dangers that workers face, and not mire themselves in pointless paperwork so we can reduce the number of workplace deaths and major injury."
Scotland v Britain as a whole
The 20 deaths and 2,240 major injuries in Scotland last year compare to 14 deaths and 2,660 major injuries in 2010/11. A further 7,447 Scottish workers suffered injuries which required at least three days off work in 2011/12, compared to 7,667 in 2010/11.
In fact, Scotland’s workers fared badly compared to Great Britain as a whole, where the number of deaths at work actually fell by two, from 175 during 2010/11 to 173 during 2011/12.
Nationwide, on average, six in every million workers were killed while at work in Great Britain between April 2011 and March 2012.
Some British workplace sectors continue to pose a higher risk of death and injury to workers than others. Industries with the highest number of fatalities include:
These four sectors accounted for more than half of all workplace deaths in Great Britain during 2011/12.
Government approach to health and safety criticised
The Government has recently come under fire for its approach to health and safety in the workplace.
The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers criticised a last-minute addition made by the Government to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill as it progressed through Parliament, claiming that it would water down health and safety protections.
“At the moment, if a worker is injured and he can show his employer has breached health and safety regulations, he has a right to claim compensation,” explained Gordon Dalyell of APIL. “The law has been clear on this point since a landmark case was brought in 1898.”
“But the Government is now seeking changes which will mean the injured person will no longer be able to rely on this right, but will have to start from scratch by proving that negligence has occurred,” he added.
According to Mr Dalyell, over 5,000 Scottish cases could be affected if this new clause becomes law.