LAWYERS AND academics this week accused the Health & Safety Executive of being complacent about investigating fatal and serious injury accidents.
They told the House of Commons Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Select Committee that between 1996 and 1998, only 11.2% of major injury accidents in the workplace were investigated. Of these, the HSE prosecuted in only 18.8% of the cases in which workers died.
The figures were compiled and presented to MPs by the Centre for Corporate Accountability, a new group of lawyers and academics specialising in corporate accountability.
CCA called for a radical restructuring of the HSE, separating preventative inspections from accident investigations.
Current philosophy and practice, it said, 'leads to thousands of companies and directors escaping prosecution for crimes involving serious injury and death'.
While CAA accepted that the HSE needed more funds to investigate more cases, the current structure of the organisation meant that it 'does not seek further funding for this purpose and remains complacent about the investigation rate'.
'It is certainly true that with limited resources the HSE must strike a balance between such reactive work and preventative inspections,' said the CCA.
'However, the Executive does not even acknowledge the critical importance of investigating more major injuries. It consistently and explicitly fails to place major investigations into a criminal justice context.'
CCA says construction is among the most dangerous industries, with 8,724 reportable injuries out of the 1996-98 total of 47,803. But CCA figures show that just 13.6% of these accidents were investigated - half as many as injuries to farm workers.
CCA estimates that about 40% of major injury accidents should result in prosecution.
'The HSE's criminal justice work needs to have a large financial input to stop the current high level of corporate immunity,' said the CCA. 'Companies escape criminal sanction that would deter them from endangering the lives of workers and the public in the future.'
The HSE said it was unable to comment on the figures or evidence presented to the MPs.