Workplace Deaths: Scotland

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:00 pm on 24th July 2019.

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Photo of Hugh Gaffney Hugh Gaffney Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill 4:00 pm, 24th July 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered workplace deaths in Scotland.

I know there are helicopters above us waiting for this speech, so I will just get started. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck, in this important debate. I thank the Scottish Trades Union Congress, Unite the union, Scottish Hazards and Families Against Corporate Killers for their time and assistance ahead of the debate.

There was a nearly 5% increase in workplace deaths in the UK last year, and a staggering 70% increase in Scotland. The Health and Safety Executive suggests that the increase was not “significant”, but as a trade unionist I firmly disagree. The death of any worker is significant for their family, friends and workmates, and the increase in workplace deaths across Scotland is significant for us in this House. It highlights that something is going wrong in sectors of the Scottish economy when it comes to the health and safety of workers. Working people look to us, their representatives, to raise and address their concerns. That is why I sought the debate.

According to the Health and Safety Executive, Scotland has the highest rate of workplace deaths per 100,000 workers in the UK. It also had the most recorded workplace deaths in the UK last year, at 29—higher than the annual average for Scotland of 19. I know the HSE will highlight that Scotland has fewer workers in low-risk industries than the other regions and nations of the UK, but surely that highlights why we must get workplace health and safety right in Scotland. Scotland has more workers in high-risk industries, who are more likely to be exposed to greater dangers in their workplace.

Both across the UK and in Scotland, the highest number of workplace deaths occur in the agriculture, construction and manufacturing sectors, but differences start to emerge between Scotland and the UK when we look at deaths by employment status. Across the UK, the self-employed are more than twice as likely as employees to suffer a fatal workplace injury, but in Scotland, the rate of fatal injury per 100,000 workers is higher among employees than among the self-employed. That greatly worries me, because it means that an increasing number of employees are being failed by their employers when it comes to health and safety in workplaces across Scotland.

The causes of those workplace deaths in Scotland also alarm me. Most of them were preventable if employers had properly enforced health and safety in the workplace. Workers should not operate machinery without appropriate protection, they should not fall from heights and they should not be struck by vehicles in the workplace. All those issues could be dealt with through proper enforcement and oversight of current health and safety regulations.