New government body will probe accidents at work

A new body has been set up in Scotland to investigate workplace accidents in an effort to improve safety. It is reported that in the year 2006/07, 31 people died as a result of a workplace accident in Scotland.

The Specialist Health and Safety Division will examine cases reported to the Procurator Fiscal by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Last year the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal service (COPFS) received 89 reports from the HSE, up 30% on the previous year. The new division which will be up and running from January 2009, will look at a range of work related accidents and will be led by a senior prosecutor overseeing teams of lawyers located in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, and Glasgow.

Other areas of the prosecution service in Scotland also adopt a specialist approach, these include sexual offences, wildlife and environmental crime.

Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini QC said that the creation of the new department will produce a concentration of expertise to help identity bad practice in the workplace and to try and minimise the risk of fatal accidents at work. He said: “This is a complex and sensitive area of our work as prosecutors. Reports form the HSE to the Procurator Fiscal can range from the tragic loss of life at work, to incidents with potentially life threatening consequences. Each case is an opportunity to identify bad and illegal practice, and to bring justice to those who fail to discharge their responsibilities under health and safety law. And importantly, to bring all relevant expertise to bear and help create safer work places.”

The chair of the HSE, Judith Hackitt, welcomed the creation of the SHSD body. She said: “Our work with the Procurator Fiscal almost invariably involves cases of human suffering which have arisen from accidents and incidents in workplaces in Scotland. Our joint working in such specialised and sensitive territory can only be enhanced by having a dedicated team of lawyers involved.”

The body will even look at major incidents on the scale of the ICL Plastics explosion, when 9 people were killed and 33 injured when the factory in Glasgow exploded on 11 May 2004. A HSE investigation concluded that a gas leak had caused the blast when the gas ignited. The Crown Office decided to prosecute ICL Plastics Limited and ICL Tech Limited under the Health & Safety at Work Act following the report conducted by the Glasgow Procurator Fiscal and HSE. The company was accused of; failing to maintain pipes carrying hazardous gas, failure to ensure the safety of staff and visitors, failing to carry out suitable and sufficient risk assessments. A fine of £200,000 was imposed on each of the two companies responsible. A public enquiry is still ongoing in this case.

The Scottish trade Unions Congress (STUC) said it also supported the move. General Secretary, Grahame Smith, said: “This will clearly have massive benefits for all stakeholders, but most important will be the benefits for the victim’s families in cases where lives are lost.”

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