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Thursday, 18 December 2014

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Don’t be left counting the cost over health and safety issues

THE Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has recently published its figures for 2008/09 and they make interesting reading for those of us in business in the north west.

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Take care down on the farm: Agriculture is an industry which is nearing the very top of the Health and safety Executive’s ‘watch list’ and the local authorities are evidently prepared to act

Some of those statistics show just how costly days lost due to ill health are to an employer.

Nationwide there were 29.3 million days lost (compared to 7.3 million in 2000/01), roughly 1.2 days per worker; 24.6 million of those were because of work-related ill health and 4.7 million were due to injuries sustained in the workplace.

The cost to employers, who are forced to pay for replacement staff and who suffer a serious loss to productivity, hit £28.3bn.

In the north west alone there were almost 2.9 million days lost, an average of 1.10 days per worker, making the north west fourth in the rankings behind the north east (1.76), the south east (1.21), and the West Midlands (1.12).

What these recent statistics do highlight is that the agricultural sector had the highest number of reported incidents including self-reported and non-fatal accidents, which could result in it becoming the HSE’s next “target sector” similar to how we have seen, over the course of the past decade, the HSE target the construction industry.

It is all too easy to dismiss statistics as scaremongering and not of relevance to the every day running of business, but in a region that is so heavily reliant on a thriving agricultural sector such dismissal could have devastating consequences.

The north west had more than 3,280 major injuries to workers reported, the second highest nationwide behind the south east, and it had the most prosecutions brought by any local authority in the country with 100 additional prosecutions brought by the HSE.

The clear warning from these statistics is: watch out; agriculture is an industry, which is nearing the very top of the HSE’s ‘watch list’ and the local authorities are evidently prepared to act.

One case study example provided by the HSE described how a family farming business incurred costs in excess of £96,000 when a prosecution was brought after a worker’s hand was crushed when changing an attachment on a tractor.

In spite of this sum being significantly more than the typical cost to employers for a serious or major incident – estimated as between £17,000 and £19,000 – it does serve as a warning sign that such costs are not unheard of.

It can be the attitude of employers that ‘it’ll never be me’ and as such shortcuts are often taken and, out of luck, are gotten away with.

But be aware because sooner or later luck tends to run out and if luck runs out and the correct procedures have not been in place, it could be your business that is next in line for significant penalties.

Businesses are far less likely to be affected when proper controls and procedures are in place; clearly, accidents still happen, but from the employer’s perspective, at least when those procedures are in place, it is protected as much as it ever can be.

James Johnston is a solicitor in Burnetts’ Health & Safety team. For further information or advice, contact James on 01228 552222 or visit www.burnetts.co.uk.

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