Workplaces are safer now than they were 15 to 20 years ago but there are still a lot of avoidable accidents each year. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the year 2020/21 there were 441,000 self-reported non-fatal injuries to workers, 51,211 of which were reported by employers. Employers are under a duty to report only the most serious accidents which is why there is a large difference between the two figures.
What steps could be taken by employers to reduce the number of accidents at work further? Well, let’s take a look at the top three reasons for serious injuries at work:
3 - Struck By a Moving Object
This represents 10% of all serious accidents that require to be reported by an employer. The main precaution that can be taken is ensuring appropriate risk assessments are undertaken regularly, measures to reduce risk implemented and communicated to staff. It is surprisingly common to discover there was a risk assessment done but the recommendations were not implemented or not communicated. Measures that help reduce these types of accident depend on the type of workplace but can include division of the workplace to ensure moving objects such as vehicles are kept away from workers. In the case of falling objects then training on how to stack goods safely so they don’t fall on others and ensuring equipment is regularly maintained and replaced should be considered.
2 - Lifting or Handling
Despite all employers having a duty to provide manual handling training and undertake risk assessments on all manual handling operations, 18% of all reported serious accidents are caused by lifting or handling. It is essential that risk assessments are done regularly and adequate training given to employees. This category also includes accidents involving forklifts or other lifting machines and special care must be taken in respect of those given the loads involved and the serious injury that can result if a load spills.
1 - Slip, Trip or Fall
Taking the top spot for the most common type of accident is a slip, trip or fall which makes up 33% of all accidents. The percetange of common workplace accident as a result of a slip, trip or fall has actually increased. These types of accident can happen in any type of workplace. The key thing for preventing these types of accident is cleanliness. Ensuring a workplace is tidy and clean means that there should be no reason for a person to slip, trip or fall and the number of accidents will then reduce.
It is heartening to see that improved health and safety standards are reducing the number of injuries suffered in the workplace. However, we have to consider what impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the number of workplace accidents. Prior to the pandemic, the rate of non-fatal accidents at work was slowly declining year on year. The rate fell again in 2020/21 but more sharply than in previous years. The COVID-19 pandemic saw workplaces closed for large parts of 2020/21. If they were not closed completely the workplaces had to find new ways to continue their operation in order to comply with the COVID-19 restrictions. It is difficult to say with certainty whether this has directly contributed to the steep decrease seen in the overall number of workers who are being injured whilst at work. Interestingly, the HSE has included figures confirming the numbers of workers impacted by COVID-19. 93,000 workers believed they caught the virus due to exposure at work. Of course it is difficult to reliably identify the source of exposure for COVID-19 which is widely prevalent in the community generally. The HSE indicate that self-reports may under or overestimate the true scale of the problem.
If all employers take their responsibilities for health and safety seriously and do not just pay lip service to it, the current level of accidents can be reduced further. Many employers do take it seriously which is why we have seen a fall to date but there are still many employers out there who do not. If the downward trend is to continue then these employers must change. If they do not change, they should be held to account for avoidable accidents in their workplace to ensure workplace safety continues to improve.
Stephanie Watson is a Legal Director in our personal injury team and can be contacted on 0131 297 5988 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Alternatively, contact the Personal Injury Team on 0800 731 8434.