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A top lawyer has urged North East businesses to review their safety procedures after official figures revealed that the number of people killed at work in the region has increased, despite the UK seeing an overall decline in fatal workplace accidents.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), a total of six people were killed at work in the region between April 2016 and March 2017, representing an increase on the five-year annual average of four deaths.

Chris Green, Partner and health and safety specialist at national law firm Weightmans, says the figures show that greater effort needs to be made to ensure the safety of workers.

“It’s worrying that, despite the UK experiencing its second lowest year on record for workplace deaths, the North East saw an increase. These figures are a stark reminder of the need for employers to keep safety under constant review.”

Green highlighted that the figures show self-employed and older workers are particularly at risk. Of the 137 UK workers died in workplace accidents last year, almost a quarter (24.8%) were aged 60 or over, despite this group representing just 10% of the UK workforce. More than a quarter (26%) of those killed were self-employed.

Green added: “Employers need to be particularly mindful of their duty of care over these at-risk groups. There can be a misconception that self-employed workers are solely responsible for their own safety, which can lead to oversights. In reality, employers have similar responsibilities in ensuring self-employed contractors have a safe environment and are following safely procedures as they do with their own directly-employed staff.

“And, while they need to be careful not to discriminate, it would also make sense to review procedures where older workers are involved in high-risk activities, given how disproportionately highly this group features in the statistics.”

Despite the increase in the North East, the period between April 2016 and March 2017 represented the second lowest year on record for workplace deaths, according to HSE.

Green said: “It’s interesting to note that we’ve seen an ongoing reduction in work-related fatalities across the UK following the introduction of much harsher penalties for employers. These statistics coincide with an increase in director-level prosecutions for breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act – which trebled to 45 from the previous year.”

According to the HSE, there has been a long-term downward trend in the number of fatal injuries to workers – which have halved over the last 20 years – but in recent years the trend shows signs of levelling.

Chris Green, said: “The fact that the medium-term trend shows the number of annual fatalities levelling off means that the HSE has now turned more of its resources onto broader occupational health issues. Employers therefore need to ensure they are focused on protecting employees from industrial disease, and stress-related illness, as the risks of enforcement are already increasing.”