Increase in serious injuries at work

The number of people badly hurt while working in Norfolk surged last year and health and safety bosses say the rise could be partially due to employers exploiting migrant workers.

Employers in Norfolk are being urged to start the new year with a stronger commitment to health and safety after figures showed, on average, at least one person suffered a serious workplace injury every day in 2009/10.

According to figures compiled by the inspectors at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the number of people seriously hurt at work in Norfolk shot up to 396 in 2009/10, an increase of 44 on the 352 who were badly injured in the previous 12 months.

The number of Norfolk work-related deaths remained the same – with one fatal injury recorded for Norwich in 2009/10 equalling the number in 2008/9.

Norfolk is out of step with the national picture, where the number of deaths and injuries has fallen, and bosses have been urged to tighten up their safety procedures.

Paul Carter, principal inspector for the HSE in Norfolk, said in his view, part of the reason for the increase was that some unscrupulous bosses were taking advantage of migrants' lack of awareness of health and safety issues to take short cuts.

He said: 'We have significant numbers of people from Poland and the Baltic States working in industries such as agriculture and food processing.

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'While some of their employers take good care of them and are forward thinking, my view is that, because of language difficulties and differences in culture, some of these people are exploited.

'Some bosses see them as a opportunity to not put in the amount of effort required to protect them, either through not training them properly or taking advantage of the fact they come from a culture there is not a history of health and safety rules or even inquests.'

The HSE has employed an outreach worker fluent in English, Polish, Russian and Turkish, in an attempt to get the message across to workers that their bosses should take responsibility for their safety.

He said: 'We have been quite radical in targeting those people who seem to be most vulnerable so we can ensure employers are doing what they should be doing.'

Mr Carter said there had been a wide range of injuries in Norfolk in 2009/10.

He said: 'There have been falls from height, which is a particular problem in the construction industry while another one is to do with transport, with vehicles reversing or involving fork lift trucks.

'There are dangers with machinery, if the right safety precautions are not in place or if they are not properly maintained, in care homes there are injuries caused by incorrect lifting, handling or carrying and then there are slips and falls, if surfaces are not kept dry and safe.

'My experience is that accidents which can be quite horrendous can be avoided a lot of the time by the employers controlling the risks.'

Details on how to prevent workplace injuries and deaths are available by visiting the Health and Safety Executive website at www.hse.gov.uk