Hidden scandal of UK businesses who fail to pay for Employers’ Liability Insurance

The former landlords of a Lancashire pub were finally convicted last week after they failed to buy insurance to protect their employees. Stephen and Karen Martin were prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after they employed staff at the Hinds Head pub in Charnock Richard without purchasing the legally required Employers’ Liability Compulsory Insurance.

 

As the pair did not buy any insurance, they had no means of paying their employees any compensation they could be awarded in the event of them falling ill or suffering an injury at work. Despite being warned by HSE inspectors on several occasions between September 2010 and February 2011, the couple failed to address the issue.

 

Speaking after the hearing, HSE investigating inspector Shellie Bee said:

 

‘Employers’ Liability Compulsory Insurance is a legal requirement and not an optional extra. Because Stephen and Karen Martin cut corners to save money, they were putting their employees in a position where they could have potentially suffered a life changing illness or injury at work and had no recourse to any kind of compensation. Despite being given ample opportunity to correct this problem over a period of months, they chose to ignore the advice they were given by HSE so we had no choice but to prosecute.’

 

In the current economic climate the temptation for businesses to save money by cutting back on worker safety is a worrying trend and one which we feel must be strongly guarded against.

 

Instead of berating hurt and injured people for having the temerity to claim compensation for accidents at work, the government should focus on the hidden scandal of rogue businesses, large and small, that fail in their legal duty to pay for Employers’ Liability Compulsory Insurance – the clue, after all is in the title.

 

The UK media is quick to highlight fraudlent accident compensation claims and the mythical ‘compensation culture’  but rather less enthusisatic to turn the spotlight on law-breaking companies…

 

Bonnar & Company is preparing a dossier on this issue and we would welcome your thoughts.

Marks & Spencer fined £1 million over asbestos risk

High Street giants Marks & Spencer suffered a spectacular fall from grace on Tuesday when the company was fined £1 million for putting customers and staff at risk of exposure to asbestos in its Reading store.

The company was also ordered to pay costs of £600,000 at the sentencing hearing at Bournemouth Crown Court. Contractors working on the refurbishment of the Broad Street store were also handed fines of £100,000 and £50,000 for breaches of Health & Safety Regulations.  

Despite government pronouncements that retail environments are inherently safe and that industry needs only a ‘light touch’ approach when assessing risks to health and safety, these serious shortcomings on the part of a highly respected UK business suggest that the opposite is true.

If a household name like Marks & Spencer can fall foul of health & safety legislation we should be very concerned about lapses in standards across the country, especially in the current economic climate when the temptation exists to save money by cutting corners on worker and public safety.

Construction workers continue to be at high risk of serious injury or death and we echo the comments made by Richard Boland, the Health & Safety Executive’s (HSE) Southern head of operations for construction who said:

“This outcome should act as a wake up call that any refurbishment programmes involving asbestos-containing materials must be properly resourced, both in terms of time and money – no matter what.”

Bonnar & Company Solicitors specialises in accident and work and industrial disease compensation claims. Call us free on 0800 163 978 for impartial expert legal advice.  

UK asbestos law not up to Euro standard

The UK version of a European Union-wide law on asbestos safety is illegally lax and must be amended, the government has been told last week.

The TUC, which had warned against the dilution of essential safety measures, said the European Commission (EC) ruling nails the myth the UK ‘gold-plates’ Euro laws.

Last week’s ‘reasoned opinion’ from the EC, in response to a complaint about inadequacies in the UK law, gives the government two months to amend the law or face possible action at the EU’s Court of Justice. It says the UK misinterpreted requirements on ‘sporadic and low intensity exposure to asbestos’ to justify the exclusion of considerable amounts of asbestos work from asbestos licensing, health assessments and exposure recording requirements.

The EC announcement, warning of court action if the government fails to act, notes: ‘The UK legislation currently focuses on the measurement of exposure to asbestos and not enough on the how the material will be affected by the work itself, while the directive deals with both exposure and the material.’ 

The problem of UK workers’ exposure to asbestos will be with us for a very long time and we are heartened to note that the EC has expressed its dissatisfaction with the UK’s recent interpretation of the regulations. It is a sorry state of affairs indeed when workers in this country have to rely on external interventions to secure adequate occupational health safety standards.

Bonnar & Company specialises in workplace accidents and illnesses and we would be happy to discuss the circumstances of your claim free of charge and without obligation.

You can contact us on freephone: 0800 163 978  

Health and safety inspections already at too low a level says TUC

With the ink still drying on Lord Young’s report on the Compensation Culture, the TUC reports that almost half (49 per cent) of workplaces in the UK have never been visited by a health and safety inspector.

The TUC’s biennial survey of safety reps, published today, finds nearly one in 10 says that the last inspection at their workplace was more than three years ago, while a further 15 per cent say it was between one and three years ago. Only around a quarter (27 per cent) say their workplace has received a visit within the last 12 months.

In small companies who employ less than 50 people only 16 per cent have had an inspection in the last year. Even among large workplaces with over 1,000 workers, only one third (33 per cent) have been inspected within the last 12 months.

Despite the low level of inspection, the TUC believes that enforcement has an effect on employers taking action to make improvements in health and safety and cut the number of accidents and injuries at work. The proportion of employers who make some improvements because of the possibility of an inspection has jumped up to 61 per cent from 52 per cent in the last survey, and two thirds of employers do more than the minimum to comply with a legal enforcement notice.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:

‘Knowing that an inspector is likely to visit is one of the key drivers to changing employers’ behaviour and making the workplace safer and healthier. ‘More than a million workers are currently suffering from an illness or injury caused by their work, and in 2009 over 30 million days were lost due to work-related sickness absence. This time off work cost employers £3.7 billion – yet much of this could health have been prevented if they had ensured their workplaces were safe.

Deep cuts in spending, and a reduced visit programme as recommended by Lord Young, will make it easier for employers to avoid their obligations under the law to protect their staff at work. The Health and Safety Executive has just seen its government funding cut by 35 per cent.

These are worrying times for the UK workforce as Lord Young’s recommendations to government seek to reduce the health and safety legislation ‘burden’ on  British industry in the name of enhancing efficiency and improving competitiveness. As the TUC has pointed out, the cost to industry in terms of days lost and payments made to people unable to work due to injury or industrial illness far outwiegh any short term gains that cutting so-called health and safety ‘red tape’ might deliver.  The evidence suggests that more, not fewer accidents at work can be expected if HSE inspections are decreased from an already low level. 

If you have been hurt or injured in an accident at work, or if you have been diagnosed with an industrial illness or disease you can call us FREE on 0800 163 978 for a no obligation review of your case by a personal injury solicitor.  

HSE warns oil companies on North Sea accidents

Just a few short months ago government appointee Lord Young was proclaiming that much of UK health & safety legislation is ‘just plain silly’.

Today, Steve Walker, head of the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) offshore division, has bluntly told companies that their health and safety record covering 27,000 workers is “simply not good enough.”

He said: “The industry has shown it can do better and it must do in future.”

Figures released on Tuesday by the HSE show that while there were no fatalities in the offshore operations it regulates for the third year in a row last year, the number of major injury cases rose from 30 in 2008-09 to 50.

The deaths of 16 in a helicopter crash and a fatality involving a diving support vessel are not covered by the HSE figures but the report says the combined fatal and major injury rate almost doubled to 192 per 100,000 workers compared with 106 in 2008-09.

Mr Walker also expresses concern at the increase from 61 to 85 in the number of incidents involving a major and significant escape of oil and gas that could have led to a major incident.

In the wake of the recent BP Deepwater Horizon tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico, it will be interesting to hear Lord Young’s pronouncemnts on UK health & safety legislation when his review is complete. Let’s hope meantime that the oil and gas industry pays attention to the HSE’s concerns for worker safety on the rigs.

Bonnar & Company specialises in industrial accident and injury claims and has a particular expertise in dealing with claims brought by workers in dangerous occupations. If you or a member of your family needs to discuss a potential claim please call us FREE on 0800 163 978 for a no obligation discussion.