Scottish workplace deaths surge by 70 per cent in one year

Written by Emily Woods on 5 July 2019 in News

Risk of death for workers in fishing, waste, recycling, agricultures and forestry is 18 times the average

The fishing sector has one of the highest risks for worker fatality - Image credit: PA

Workplace deaths in Scotland have increased by 70 per cent in the past year, rising from 17 deaths in 2017-18 to 29 in 2018-19, new Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures reveal.

The annual data showed overall in the UK there was a 4 per cent increase in workplace fatalities, with six more deaths from workplace injuries than the previous year.

While agriculture, forestry and fishing accounts for a small fraction of the UK workforce, the industries accounted for 20 per cent of all worker fatalities in the last year.

The risk of workplace death in waste, recycling, agricultures, forestry and fishing sectors was the greatest, with a rate 18 times as high as the average.

One quarter of workplace deaths in the UK were workers aged 60 or over, even though those workers only make up 10 per cent of the workforce.

The most common causes of death were workers falling from height (40), being struck by a moving vehicle (30) and being struck by a moving object (16). Combined, these causes accounted for 60 per cent of workplace deaths in 2018-19.

HSE chair Martin Temple said the data revealed workplace deaths were “worryingly high”.

“This is unacceptable and more must be done to prevent such fatalities taking place,” Temple said.

“Whatever the sector, we should remember that any change in numbers provides little comfort to the family, friends and colleagues of the 147 whose lives were cut short this year while doing their job.”

The report noted Scotland had a “sharp increase” in worker deaths, but said: “this increase can possibly be explained by natural variation in the figures and at this stage does not indicate any statistically significant change.”

However, workplace health and safety charity Scottish Hazards rejected this, saying: “These figures released today are bad news, the HSE says that a 70 per cent increase is not ‘statistically significant’.”

“They are certainly significant to us and they will be significant to all those families bereaved by work tragedies,” the charity wrote in Facebook following the data’s release.

“We should never forget the pain and suffering health and safety failures inflict on families and loved ones. Scotland accounts for nearly 20 per cent of all workplace deaths investigated by the HSE but only has slightly more than 8 per cent share of the UK labour market.

“We need health and safety regulation and enforcement that is fit for purpose, where activity is not driven by government ideology, where health and safety is seen as a right and not a burden, a myth pedalled by the Conservatives for years and where prevention rules over reaction.”

On a legislative level, Labour MSP Claire Baker’s culpable homicide bill was introduced to Scottish Parliament last November, proposing to create two kinds of statutory culpable homicide where death is caused “recklessly, or by gross negligence”.

The legislation aims to address trade union concern that health and safety is neglected in the workplace and employees and left vulnerable.

The bill stated the law should be amended to: “ensure where loss of life is caused by the recklessness or gross negligence of individuals, companies or organisations that, where proved, the wrongdoer can be convicted of the offence that reflects the appropriate seriousness and moral opprobrium of what occurred.”

It was open for consultation, but this closed on April 24 this year.

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