Work injuries not being investigated

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Figures withheld by the Health and Safety Executive show that a sharply reduced proportion of major injuries in the workplace are being investigated.

In 1994, inspectors investigated more than 15 per cent of such incidents, but by last year the proportion had dropped to just 4 per cent, according to figures supplied to the Institute of Employment Rights and confirmed as accurate by the executive.

Only six out of100 blindings at work were targeted last year compared with eight out of 23 in in 1994. The comparable figures for amputations were 297 out of 1158 (25 per cent) compared with 502 out of 1031 (48 per cent) and for poisonings and asphyxiation 53 out of 359 (15 per cent) compared with 155 out of 276 (56 per cent).

Launching the annual report of the executive yesterday Jenny Bacon, director- general, said her organisation had decided to target its activities more effectively on activities which presented the greatest risk. More time was also being spent on improving the management of health and safety, she said

Civil service union IPMS however said the executive was guilty of under- investment and misplaced priorities and Frank Davies, chairman of the Health and Safety Commission, which directs the work of the executive, conceded that lower funding from the state inevitably affected the work of inspectors.

Reporting a surge in fatalities at work, Mr Davies went on the offensive about the penalties suffered by companies for putting people at risk. They were "ridiculously low", he said.

Mr Davies said the commission was urging the Government to ensure that courts make full use of existing punishments and, that in the longer term, sentences are increased. "When we prosecute it is because individuals or companies have flouted criminal law and endangered life and limb," said Mr Davies.

One construction company, which was refurbishing flats, was fined pounds 345 with pounds 50 costs after sending a new recruit to the second floor where he fell to his death over an unprotected edge. A paper sacks manufacturer was fined pounds 450 after an employee's hand was crushed in a printing machine which was unguarded despite advice from the Health and Safety Executive.

Mr Davies confirmed that there had been a considerable rise in workplace fatalities from 258 to 302, mainly in construction and agriculture with most of the rise among the self-employed. Sub-contracted workers suffered twice the fatality rate of their employed colleagues, according to Mr Davies.