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A not-for-profit organisation
committed to injured people

Blog: #IAWeek2024: Going to work in the UK has got safer in 50 years, but we should never, ever, take our eyes off the ball

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#IAWeek2024: Going to work in the UK has got safer in 50 years, but we should never, ever, take our eyes off the ball
Mike Benner | 12 Jun 2024

Thirty-three million of us are in employment in the UK and from offices, to factories, hairdressers, childcare providers, postal workers, and beyond, we are all under the protection of legislation designed to keep us safe.

This summer marks 50 years since the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 was given Royal Assent. It was quite the turning point for industry in this country as it set out the responsibilities employers have towards their staff, employees have towards one another, and some self-employed people have towards themselves.

Your employer must identify anything which might cause you harm and take action to stop it, listen to your concerns, and give you the proper training and equipment. In turn you also must cooperate with your employer, follow the training, and take reasonable care. This is a very trimmed down run through of what the Act means but the nub of it is this: if you meet your responsibilities under health and safety law you will considerably reduce the risk of someone being harmed, and you being found negligent.

It is important here that I point out the central message of APIL’s annual Injury Awareness Week (24-28 June). APIL’s vision is of a future without needless injuries. ‘Needless’ is the key word. Accidents cannot be prevented, but injuries caused by negligence can and should be avoided.

We do not know exactly how many needless injuries the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 has helped to prevent in its 50 years, but we do know that workplace deaths have fallen by around 85 per cent during that time according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Going to work in the UK has got safer.

That all said, 560,000 people still suffered injuries at work last year according to the HSE’s Labour Force Survey. Around a quarter of these injuries resulted in more than seven days absence from work and included loss of sight or consciousness, scalding, burns, and broken bones. Statistics cannot sufficiently convey the pain, discomfort, financial pressures and the impact on personal and family life suffered by these workers. The effect of a needless injury is far reaching and felt by the workers, their families, and employers. This is what we set out to highlight this Injury Awareness Week

It is the hardships which make it so important for injured workers to have the right to make a claim for compensation and get their lives back on track. The number of injured workers who go on to make claims is lower than you might think. Latest data suggests that, of those injured or made ill because of their work in 2022/23, just five per cent made a claim for compensation. This is down from fourteen per cent in 2018/19. APIL is looking into the reasons as to why this ‘justice gap’ is developing.

APIL members have many stories about people they have represented who went to work and did not make it home unscathed. Some are the stuff of nightmares. We have heard of people crushed by rubble, or losing limbs, or becoming seriously ill because of exposure to asbestos. I could fill this blog many times over just with the examples. Going to work in the UK has got safer in 50 years, but we should never, ever, take our eyes off the ball.

There have been occasional attempts by governments over the years to weaken the responsibilities employers and employees alike have to each other, in an obsession with cutting so-called ‘red tape’. Buzz phrases like that are very unhelpful as they feed myths and misleading perceptions. How can the protection of life and limb be dismissed as ‘red ‘tape’? A society which values its workforce should have a solid system for reporting injuries and for holding wrongdoers to account, not least so that further needless injuries are not repeated.

If you have any experience of being injured at work, support Injury Awareness Week 2024 by sharing your story on social media. You can find APIL’s content for this week on Instagram, Facebook, X, and LinkedIn.   

Past blog entries

About this blog

Mike Benner

Mike Benner is Chief Executive of APIL