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The North East: a safer place to work

Policy Release

Fewer people across the North East are being seriously or fatally injured at work, according to figures for 2009/10 released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) today (Wednesday 27 October).

There were 1,219 serious workplace injuries recorded in the region last year compared to 1,382 in 2008/9 and three deaths - six fewer than the previous year.

The number of people suffering from work-related illnesses in 2009/10 remained the same as last year, at 55,000.

Chris Gillies, Principal Inspector for HSE in the North East, said:

"This is once again a step in the right direction, but these figures show that there are still numerous cases where the health and safety of workers is still not being taken seriously. Employers have a legal duty to protect their employees. Serious health and safety risks need to be considered at the very heart of business and not seen as an add-on, tick-box exercise or an unnecessary burden.

"Last year in the North East, HSE secured 28 convictions for breaches of health and safety law by companies and individuals. We will continue to target those who fail to meet the standards that the law requires and employees have a right to expect."

Across England, Scotland and Wales, 28.5 million working days (equivalent to 1.2 days per worker) were lost to injury and ill health last year - compared with 29.3 million in 2008/09. In the North East an estimated 1.4 million working days (equivalent to 1.5 days per worker) were lost to injury and ill health last year.

Workplace fatal injuries fell from 179 in 2008/09 to a record low of 152 in 2009/10, and there was a reduction of more than 11,000 in the number of workplace injuries classified as serious or incurring more than three days absence from work.

Comparison with international data still shows Britain to be one of the safest places to work in the EU.

Judith Hackitt, Chair of HSE said:

"It is encouraging to see further reduction in the number of people being killed and seriously injured at work. We now need to ensure that the improvements which are being made continue. Every statistic represents an individual or a family which is now suffering as a result of health and safety failings at work.

"Britain remains one of the safest places to work in the EU and we are rightly proud of this record. The challenge now is to focus on those areas where improvement is slow to emerge.

"We know what good practice looks like but there remain significant areas of poor practice which still result in serious harm to people at work. These statistics also remind us yet again of the significant gains which are yet to be made in reducing the harm caused to people's health by work."

Major injuries at work have fallen since 2000 and this trend continued last year with 27,096 workers reported as being injured in 2009/10 (91.0 per 100,000) compared with 29,000 in 2008/09 (95.2 per 100,000).

The estimated number of people suffering from work-related ill health in 2009/10 was 1.3 million. Almost 1.2 million fewer working days were lost to ill health - a total of 23.4 million.

Construction firm fined after death of worker

A Scottish construction firm has been fined after one of its workers died four weeks after being struck by a telehandler driven by a co-worker.

Charles Wilkinson, 51, from Berwick, was struck by the telehandler as it was being reversed the wrong way along a one-way residential street in Tweedmouth.

Newcastle Crown Court heard the company, James Swinton Co Ltd, was carrying out refurbishment work in the street on 10 November 2008.

The company had not requested a road closure from Berwick District Council and there were still residents' cars parked in the street.

The telehandler driver was reversing his vehicle up the street the wrong way when it mounted the pavement and struck Mr Wilkinson, who was taken to hospital with injuries to his pelvis, spine and ribs but later released.

However, Mr Wilkinson died four weeks later as a result of a blood clot. A Home Office pathologist later determined the clot was caused by the incident.

The company, James Swinton Co Ltd, of Noble Place, Hawick, Scotland, had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to one breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was today (4 October) fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £4,063 costs.

After the case, HSE Inspector Dr Dave Shallow, said:

"This was a tragic accident that could and should have been avoided.

"Site transport activities should be managed to minimise as far as possible the need for reversing. But where it is necessary to reverse, site managers should ensure that it is done in a safe and controlled manner, using a banksman, reversing aids on the vehicles and segregation of pedestrians and vehicles.

"The company could have asked Berwick District Council for a road closure which, along with these measures and the removal of residents' vehicles, would have allowed safer movement of construction plant and vehicles."