Action needed on workplace deaths

15-12-2004

A �20,000 fine meted out to a firm after the death of a 20-year-old worker in a forklift truck accident has led to calls for tougher penalties.

Last week E.W. Pepper Ltd, of Herts, pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety laws after the man's death at a farm in Melbourn, Cambs.

Chris Kaufman, who represents rural workers for the T&G Union, said too many firms cut corners on safety.

He called for new laws to be brought in so lax employers could face jail.

Last week's Health and Safety Executive prosecution related to the death of Hungarian employee Ezther Nagy who died after her forklift truck overturned.

The court heard of E.W. Pepper's failure to use trained staff to drive forklift trucks and failure to control access to this mobile mechanical handling equipment.

As well as the fine, magistrates ordered the firm to pay �11,500 in costs.

Mr Kaufman told BBC News that it is "amazing" in this day and age that workers continue to die after health and safety breaches.

'A message to employers'

"Many employers do cut corners. It is all about the firm's balance sheets, and they do include the cost of people's lives," he said.

"We need a corporate killing law so that it is clearly the management to blame, and it should be possible that the boss would go to jail.

"Until this law is brought in these sort of accidents will continue. This law would send a message to employees."

But employer's organisation the CBI has said it believes a raft of health and safety legislation already covered the issue.

Mike Gibb, a principle inspector with the HSE in Luton, believes that senior managers of firms should be responsible when their company breaches health and safety rules.

"A corporate killing charge could make it easier to bring forward cases to court," he said.

Mr Gibb said the HSE website and its information phone line means that every employer should be able to find out what health and safety rules apply to them.

'Preventable accidents'

"I would expect every employer to take reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of the people working for them," he said.

Carol Grainger, head of workplace transport policy (which includes forklift truck accidents) of the Health and Safety Executive, believes that these accidents should not be happening.

"Workplace transport is the second biggest cause of fatal accidents in British workplaces, killing approximately 70 and injuring 1,500 people every year," she said.

"The vast majority of these accidents are preventable."

In 2003/04 there were 34 fatal injuries to workplace transport workers: an increase of six on the previous year.

by Nic Rigby
BBC News, Norwich

BBC News

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