Tom Jones says there should be a crackdown on employers with a poor workplace safety record

I wish insurers didn’t have to pay out so much and so often. But all the talk about compensation levels and lawyers’ costs is just froth on the surface of the problem.

The answer must be stronger enforcement by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), including tougher penalties for poor performers. But insurers also have a key role to play which at the moment they are failing to address properly or at all.

I know many insurers do sterling work providing risk management and health and safety tools to their clients. Allianz Cornhill’s new Risk Director website, for example, helps with risk surveys, provides health and safety policies and demonstrates the benefits of safer working.

There should be still greater incentive for employers in the form of premiums that properly reflect their safety record – insurers should punish the reckless and reward the careful.

Of course it should not just be left to insurers to persuade recalcitrant employers to improve health and safety. There should also be the threat of fines.

If the Department for Work and Pensions spent half as much time boosting the powers and penalties available to the HSE as the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) spends debating and consulting on claims protocols and court costs, damages and no-win, no-fee reform, the nettle would be grasped.

We are currently dealing with our third case of burns at a Midlands engineering company. A long-running problem of spatter at a spot welding machine repeatedly injures staff. The hotter the weld, the better the join, but the more splatter. Management have been unable to get the balance right, burning worker after worker. Damages will again be about £1,000.

At another engineering company, we have dealt with a long line of staff suffering cuts to their hands because the company will not issue better protective gloves. They are handling extremely sharp metal objects that eventually go into Boeing aircraft engines, yet the company will not spend the necessary money on improving safety. The damages last time amounted to £1,369.

In other cases, company records show managers were warned of problems days – and even weeks – in advance, but failed to take action until one of its employees was hurt. It can be anything from shop-front security grilles or car park barriers to uncleared rubbish and broken lighting on slippery steps.

The problem is that it is cheaper for employers to buy insurance to cover ‘small’ amounts of damages and legal costs than to invest in decent standards of health and safety. Indeed, the recently published MOJ proposals on reforming the personal injury claims process will, if they go through unamended, provide a more predictable cost so employers and insurers will be able to balance what it will cost to maim a worker against the profits they make.

If each and every injury case attracted an enforcement cost from the HSE too, that would make companies sit up and take notice. The enforcement cost could be in the form of penalties or fines, tough (time limited and monitored) improvement orders, immediate factory closures until the problem was rectified, or of any number of imaginative regulatory actions that cannot be covered by insurance policies.

We all want safer workplaces. I cannot conceive insurers have anything to lose and I would suggest have everything to gain in joining me in the demand that a disregard for workers’ safety hits a company’s bottom line.