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The Cost of Workplace Accidents to UK Businesses

Jenni Hill Health & Safety

Although the UK has a reputation for taking Health & Safety matters very seriously, in 2014/15, more than 611,000 workplace injuries were reported and 142 people died as a result of accidents sustained at work. Not only can such accidents have a devastating impact on individuals involved and their families, the businesses themselves can also be affected. Employers may find themselves facing extensive costs in the weeks, months and even years following an accident. In severe cases, these costs can make it difficult for the business to continue operating as effectively as it did before the accident.

So how much do workplace accidents cost UK businesses? Let’s take a look…

Employee absences

Of all reported workplace accidents in 2014/15, 198,000 injuries led to over 3 days of absence while 152,000 resulted in 7 days of absence. This means that in total, 4.7 million working days were lost in the space of just one year.

The number of working days lost increases even further to 27.3 million when work-related illnesses such as stress, depression and musculoskeletal disorders are taken into account. In 2013/14, the cost of such absences to British employers was estimated to be £2.8 billion.

When an employee is absent as a result of an accident in the workplace there are numerous costs for the employer to take into account:

  • Wages for the injured worker during their absence
  • Overtime wages if necessary
  • Recruitment costs to find a replacement
  • Wages for the replacement worker
  • Loss of managers’ time

Legal costs

If an accident at work occurs due to an employer’s failings, the employer may face extensive legal costs and fines if they’re prosecuted.

In 2015 a Warwickshire vehicle company was fined £166,000 and ordered to pay £46,538 in costs, after one of its employees was crushed to death by a lorry. The driver of the lorry had not seen the victim because the lorry’s grill was up. Health & Safety inspector Mark Austin said: “The tragic, needless loss of life could have been prevented had [the company] properly considered the risks from the movement of heavy goods vehicles at this site, and provided effective segregation of pedestrians from moving vehicles.”

Companies can also face fines following injuries. In 2014, a Suffolk firm was fined £18,000 and ordered to pay £6,929 in costs after a young employee’s arm was crushed when he was removing compacted dust from a baling machine.

HSE Inspector Steven Gill said: “[The victim] was just 17 at the time, when youth and lack of experience should have prompted extra vigilance by his employer.

“The incident could easily have been avoided had there been proper safeguards in place when clearing the blockages on the baler including ensuring that it was properly isolated before starting work.

“This case highlights what can go wrong if robust procedures are not in place to manage interventions on large items of plant and machinery.”

Some employers wrongly assume that insurance will cover all costs associated with an accident at work. However, while insurance will often cover the cost of injury, ill health and damage, the business or business owner is likely to have to cover the following:

  • Lost time
  • Extra wages and overtime payments
  • Sick pay
  • Production delays
  • Fines
  • Loss of contracts
  • Legal costs
  • Damage to products, tools, and equipment
  • Clearing the site of the accident
  • Investigation time
  • Excess on any claim
  • Loss of reputation

Decreased productivity

If an employee is severely injured or killed following an accident at work, other employees could lose moral and become less productive.

An increase in paperwork is also likely to be required following an accident at work and this could stifle productivity even further. If any employees are expected to attend court to give evidence, this results in further disruption to the day-to-day running of the company.

Increase in employee turnover

If, following a severe accident, employees lose motivation, this could inspire an increase in employee turnover. Not only could this force employers to urgently seek replacement staff, it could have a negative impact on the businesses’ reputation.

Although employee safety should be business owner’s first priority, the cost of workplace accidents and illnesses should give employers additional incentive to do everything in their power to make the working environment safe and healthy.

How to reduce the risk of an accident

1. Identify potential risks

2. Take note of who could be harmed

3. Decide how you can prevent these people from getting hurt

4. Train the necessary employees

5. Record any steps you take to protect employees, visitors, customers, and members of the public

6. Check standards and protocols are being maintained on a regular basis

Where can you turn to for help

Employees – make it clear that employees should never be afraid to suggest ways of improving Health & Safety within the workplace. If workers feel comfortable making suggestions and highlighting potential risks when they arise, the likelihood of an accident occurring can often be reduced.

Your insurance company – get in touch with your insurance company to find out exactly what you’re covered for and whether certain procedures need to be carried out in order for your cover to be valid. If you fail to introduce certain safety measures outlined in your insurance policy, you may not be covered in the event of an accident.

A Health & Safety Consultant – contact an experienced Health & Safety Consultant to gain an expert’s insight into how you can make your workplace safe and protect employees.