Last week (19-25 October) was European Health and Safety Week. While ‘health and safety’ issues are often perceived to curtail everyday activities or to be ‘over the top’, they have a vital role in the workplace and people would be surprised at the basic failures many employers allow. European Health and Safety Week aims to raise awareness of the need for health and safety protection for employees and impress upon employers the need to take it seriously.

Philippa Luscombe, head of the personal injury team at Penningtons Manches LLP, comments: “Health and safety legislation evolves over time. Much of it is common sense but some can be seen as restrictive. Sadly, many employers see health and safety as an unnecessary cost and choose to cut corners and/or ignore their obligations to enhance profits – too often with catastrophic consequences.

“The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) publishes accident statistics revealing that there were 136 workplace fatalities in the UK in 2013/2014. The number for 2014/2015 is provisionally assessed at 142 – about one person per 200,000 employees. These are quite alarming numbers when you consider that, if all employers complied with key legislation, there should only ever be a handful of genuine, unpreventable accidents.

“Many of the serious and fatal accidents in the workplace arise from basic safety failures – lack of training on machinery, inadequate safety equipment being provided (particularly when working at heights), basic lack of safety procedures with regard to electrics and, in some cases, employees simply being required to work such long hours that they become tired and make mistakes. Often risk assessments are not carried out and minimal training is provided. This is compounded where employees are working for cash in hand/ short term.

“The HSE is doing a lot to clamp down on employers who risk the lives of their staff. It is hoped that campaigns such as the Health and Safety Week will remind employers why there is a need to take health and safety seriously; flag up to employees the safety procedures in place to protect them; and highlight the potential penalties for employers who disregard these obligations. These can be as serious as individual prosecution for corporate manslaughter.”