One in ten manual workers believes their employer doesn’t take health & safety seriously, no win no fee experts warn
In the UK, employers are legally obliged to take health and safety measures at the workplace. In reality, not all of them prioritise workers’ health.
. A new study commissioned by YouGov sheds new light on the manual work conditions in UK factories, warehouses, and distribution centres and how many employees risk their health while doing their job. Legal experts warn that many workplace injuries are underreported and that businesses take heavy financial risks by neglecting their duty of care.
The health & safety shortcomings of manual work in the UK
The UK-wide survey interviewed 2,019 participants who worked in factories, warehouses, and distribution centres and was carried out by a global manufacturing company on behalf of YouGov. The results weren’t exactly encouraging, showing that a worrying percentage of workers worry about their health and safety. At a national level, 11% of manual workers said that they do not feel safe at work, and 37% that their employer cuts corners when it comes to health and safety. At a local level, there are variations. On average, 19% of workers in the UK suspect that their employer doesn’t report security incidents, but in Yorkshire and the North West, this percentage is higher.
These figures are even more concerning if we also consider the fact that, since the beginning of the pandemic, warehouses and distribution centres have experienced a larger workload. One-third of workers said that the COVID-19 pandemic has made their employers prioritise measures that prevent the spread of the virus, such as wearing protective clothing, maintaining a safe distance, and using hand sanitiser, but this has been done to the detriment of other essential health and safety measures. For example, four in ten workers said that their employers had not provided separate crossing routes where special vehicles operate.
The real number of workplace accidents could be larger than reported.
According to RIDDOR, at least 136 people have lost their lives at the workplace since 2016, and 70,000 have sustained an injury. One-fifth of those who were injured at the workplace were hit by a moving vehicle. These numbers are high enough on their own, but legal experts point out that many incidents are not reported and that workers are paying from their own pockets for injuries that were caused by employer negligence. Although many employers see health and safety as more of a chore, neglecting these measures can have dramatic consequences and costs the NHS millions annually.
According to HSE, there were 693,000 self-reported non-fatal injuries, but only around 65,400 were reported by employers. The most common non-fatal workplace injuries are:
- Slips and falls from the same level
- Lifting or carrying heavy objects
- Being struck by a moving object
- Acts of violence
- Slipping and falling from a higher level
In the past, even more of these injuries went unreported, but, in recent years, there has been more awareness on the matter of workplace health & safety. Many workers are now aware that their employer has a duty of care towards them and that if they do not meet this duty of care, they are entitled to take legal action. The myth of the expensive lawyer is also starting to be busted, as more and more people now understand that they can work with a legal expert who will only charge them a small percentage if they win the case. This service is called “no win no fee”, and it’s helped many people receive compensation for workplace injuries, car accidents, and more.
Why employers should pay more attention to health and safety
While it may be tempting to neglect health and safety measures and hope that accidents won’t happen to you, statistics show that they probably will. And when they do, the financial risks can be crippling. According to safety reports, the costs are direct and indirect:
Direct costs include the financial compensation that workers must receive from their employer. These vary depending on the severity of the injury and to what extent it affects the worker’s life. For example, the compensation amount for a minor eye injury doesn’t usually exceed £8,000, but paralysis after a back injury classifies as a severe case, and compensation can reach up to £151,000. Direct compensation includes medical expenses, legal fees, as well as additional costs that may be required after the accident. For example, if an employee is no longer able to do their job after the accident, legal authorities will take that into account when establishing the compensation amount. Also, if the accident was particularly traumatic and the employee requires long term physical and mental health therapy, that will factor in, too.
Indirect costs may seem negligible in comparison but, in the long run, they can actually exceed them. What many businesses fail to understand is that repeated workplace injuries have serious repercussions, and it’s not just about that worker compensation. The business will also lose money because productivity will decrease, because they might need to train a replacement and because they might need to repair the equipment that was involved in the accident. Needless to say, when workplace injuries take place repeatedly, that will influence employee morale and will lead to an increase in absenteeism and affect your ability to hire new people in the long run. In the case of high-profile companies or small towns where there are only a few warehouses/factories, news about workplace incidents travel fast, and recruitment will become significantly harder. Few people are willing to risk their health at work, and they’ll always prioritise employers that have a good track record of respecting health and safety rules.
To stay competitive and avoid the direct and indirect costs of workplace injuries, businesses need to ensure that they follow industry best practices and implement standards like PAS 13. Ultimately, businesses, regardless of their industry, need to understand that employees are their most important assets and that implementing solid health and safety practices is critical to long-term success.
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