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  • Lee Calver
  • 16 September 2014
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What would Scottish independence mean for workplace health and safety statistics?

On Thursday, every registered voter in Scotland over the age of 16 will decide if they want Scotland to become an ‘independent country’.

The debate surrounding Scotland’s independence has not only raised eyebrows, but also a whole host of questions regarding the impact a ‘yes’ vote will have.

We thought it would be interesting to see how accident and fatality rates in the workplace might change if Scotland does become independent.

Statistics show that Scotland has long had a higher rate of fatal and major injuries than the rest of Britain. The fatal and major injury rate in Scotland in 2012/13 was 83.4 per 100,000 workers, compared to 77.5 in England, and 92.0 in Wales, giving the overall UK a rate of 78.9.

Reasons for these figures have historically been attributed to Scotland having a greater proportion of higher-risk industries, such as construction. When looking in more detail at construction-specific figures, the average reported injury rate in Scotland between the years 2008/09 and 2010/11 was 706 per 100,000 workers. In comparison, it was 564 in England and 655 in Wales.

In 2006 the HSE looked into why the Scottish construction sector had higher rates of injury than those working in the same sector south of the border. It concluded:

“There are proportionally many more manual (at-risk) workers in Scottish construction than in the rest of Great Britain. As a result it appears that the overall accident rate is higher in Scotland.”

Looking at the last three years, data for the manufacturing sector shows that Scotland’s average reported injury rate was 770 per 100,000 workers, while in England it was only 685. By contrast, in Wales the average reported injury rate was 982 per 100,000 workers.

Let’s look at a few other facts published recently by the HSE:

Injuries

In 2012/13, there were 6,708 reported injuries (under RIDDOR) to employees in Scotland, which made up 9% of the overall GB total.

Enforcement

  • 574 cases were prosecuted by HSE in England and Wales.
  • 105 cases were prosecuted by local authorities in England and Wales.
  • 27 cases were prosecuted by the Procurator Fiscal in Scotland.
  • 13,503 enforcement notices were issued by all enforcing authorities.

 Ill health 

In 2011/12 in Scotland, 64,000 people suffered from work-related illness, a rate of 2,480 per 100,000 people working in the past 12 months.

Across Great Britain, an estimated 1.1 million people who worked in 2011/12 were suffering from a work-related illness. The overall rate of new cases of work-related ill health was roughly 1,300 cases per 100,000 workers.

Working days lost

In Scotland in 2011/12, 1.7 million working days were lost due to workplace injury and ill health, averaging 0.9 days per worker.

Looking at the UK as a whole, 27 million working days were lost due to work-related illness and workplace injury in 2011/12. On average, each person took around 21 days for ill health and 7.3 days for injuries.

It is also interesting to see that in Scotland there are 780,000 people aged 16-64 classed as economically inactive. Of these, 20,000 (2.6%) are on short-term sick leave and 224,000 (28.8%) are on long-term sick leave. These figures are much higher, as a proportion of those classed as economically inactive, than the UK, which has 183,000 on short-term sick leave (2.1%) and 1,980,000 on long-term sick (22.46%).The HSE has produced a graphic which compares health and safety statistics across each region of the UK.

Given the fact that Scotland has a historically poorer health and safety performance in comparison to the rest of the UK, it will be interesting to see what happens to workplace accident, injury and fatality rates if Scotland does choose to become an independent country.

While the statistics suggest the rate of fatal and major injuries will tumble if Scotland is removed from the statistics, it will be important to make clear these figures are not misread. If people are led to believe that workplace accident and ill health rates have drastically improved, this could potentially lead to lax health and safety standards from those who believe health and safety management is no longer an issue.

The debate will undoubtedly rumble on for some time, with pros and cons for both sides of the argument. However, no matter whether it is a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote, standards surrounding health and safety must remain robust and at the top of the agenda for all organisations, whatever side of the border you sit.