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Most UK workplace fatalities occur in uninspected sectors, according to researcher

22 January 2013

The majority of workplace deaths occur in industry sectors officially categorised as exempt from unannounced health and safety inspections, according to research by a university academic. Professor Rory O’Neill of the University of Stirling analysed more than 20 HSE reports to map fatality statistics against a list of sectors excluded from proactive inspections.

Agriculture is one of the high-risk but exempt sectors identified in the report
Agriculture is one of the high-risk but exempt sectors identified in the report

The findings, published in Safety and Health Practitioner, show there are now at least 37 ‘sectors without inspectors’, including agriculture, quarries, plastics, electricity generation and supply, and other industries acknowledged by the HSE to be ‘higher risk’.

“Britain’s biggest employer – the health service (NHS) – is also out of bounds,” said Professor O’Neill. “But the country’s 1.4 million health workers can be confronted by many of the safety risks encountered in heavy industry, as well as all manner of potentially terminal health risks – from blood-borne diseases to carcinogenic, cytotoxic and other drugs.”

He argued that the policy – which was first laid out nearly two years ago, in the Government’s strategy, Good health and safety, good for everyone – is driven not by evidence but by an ideology of deregulation. “Despite several months of questions to HSE, they failed to provide any health and safety case for exempting sometimes deadly industries from official policing,” Professor O’Neill claimed. “HSE was told by the Government to get off employers’ backs and the watchdog tamely obliged.”

His research showed that between 1 April 2011 and 31 October 2012, there were 258 fatalities in HSE-enforced workplaces – with 137 (53 per cent) occurring in sectors exempt from proactive inspections. In sectors still subject to unannounced inspections, there were 104 deaths (40 per cent). The remaining deaths occurred in sectors where the enforcement approach is unclear, added Professor O’Neill.

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