The HSE has published its Fatal Injury Statistics for 2014/15 which show a slight increase in fatal injuries to workers in the workplace, rising from 136 in 2013/14 to 142, although this is still lower than the average of 156 over the past 5 years. In addition, there were 102 members of the public fatally injured in incidents related to work (excluding railway related fatalities).
This means there were 258 fatal incident enquiries undertaken by investigators last year. Where a work related fatality occurs, the Police will investigate jointly with the regulator (whether HSE or Local Authority) under the Joint Work Related Death Protocol. The Police considers offences of Corporate Manslaughter (against the organisation) and Gross Negligence Manslaughter (against individuals). The HSE or Local Authority will consider health and safety offences.
What are the statistics?
When we examine the statistics, the overwhelming majority of fatalities involving workers occurred in England (113), with the North West (20) and South West (19) having the highest number per region. There were 20 fatalities in Scotland and nine in Wales.
The services sector had the highest number of fatalities (156) although when that figure is compared with the number of workers in the sector this equates to 0.21 deaths per 100,000 workers. Of the 156 fatalities relating to the services sector, 105 involved members of the public.
The most dangerous industry is agriculture with 37 fatalities which averages out as just over nine deaths per 100,000 workers. Unsurprisingly, construction also figures highly in the number of incidents recorded with 39 fatalities which, when considered as an average figure, equals 1.62 deaths per 10 0,000 demonstrating the significant strides being taken in this sector.
The offence carries an unlimited fine if convicted. It is impossible to put a precise figure on the amount of fine because of the variables involved – size of business, turnover, level of culpability etc. – but the Sentencing Guidelines Council advise the penalty will rarely be less than GBP 500,000 and may run into the millions (although please note there will be revised guidelines issued in November 2015 which will likely suggest consistently higher penalties for large organisations in future – we will be writing with a separate update as soon as the guidelines have been issued and with details of our seminar programme on this topic).
Gross Negligence Manslaughter
The offence carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
While previously the Courts have been willing to impose suspended prison sentences on those convicted (served in the community), more recent guidance from the Court of Appeal indicates this will generally not be appropriate and a prison sentence should be imposed.