Corporate responsibility for industrial incidents
Corporate responsibility for industrial incidents

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Corporate responsibility for industrial incidents

1 Workplace incidents in the UK

In his essay, 'Violent corporate crime, corporate social responsibility and human rights', Slapper (2011) outlines some of the causes and effects of ‘industrial accidents’. He explores the spectrum of the human cost of injuries inflicted at work. They include temporary and permanent disabilities, maiming or death. The ramifications of ‘industrial accidents’ that result in the death of employees or other workers reach beyond the anonymity of workplace accident statistics. Each fatality caused by an ‘industrial accident’ reflects the end of a life:

Every year more than 200 employees are killed in work-related incidents. The loss of a breadwinner, a mum, a dad, a spouse or a much-loved brother or sister can have a devastating emotional and financial impact.

(Eagle, cited by the Ministry of Justice, 2008)

Activity 1

In the UK, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) produces statistics for the types and numbers of workplace-related injuries and fatalities in each year. Go to the HSE's website [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] and find this year’s HSE statistics report. Those of you who are studying from another country may also wish to look for the health and safety data for your country as well.

When considering these statistics, you need to look at the range of workplace injuries that are covered and note down how many fatal injuries occurred in the year of the report that you have accessed.


Hopefully you found the HSE’s report helped to inform you about the nature and extent of the issue in the UK. In terms of fatalities you will see that a distinction is made between deaths caused by work-related diseases and those that have occurred through some catastrophic accident. In the case of the former, those caused by effects of exposure to asbestos are highlighted. In the case of the latter, the 2009–10 statistics record 152 deaths, representing 0.5 fatalities per 100,000 workers. It also records that 80 of these deaths were in the construction and agricultural sectors.

Those of you studying from another country may find it interesting to compare these figures with those of your own country.

The traditional term ‘industrial accident’ can be misleading, as it implies that it is an unavoidable and inherent part of industrial activity, and it fails to distinguish those incidents that could have been avoided by better working practices. For this reason, it is now common policy among police and investigative teams to refer to an event in which damage has resulted, but the cause of which is not yet known, as an ‘incident’ or ‘occurrence’, as this provides a neutral, non-judgmental description of the event. (The Department for Transport hosts a number of policy documents on use of language in such instances.)

Activity 2

Read Reading 1: extracts from Slapper (2000), ‘Blood in the bank: social and legal aspects of death at work’. Then outline how common social perceptions have affected the way in which deaths in the workplace are treated.

Click here to access Reading 1


The issue of deaths at work reveals the ambivalent attitude of society to corporate criminality more generally. The fact that they have been labelled as ‘accidents’ by those responsible for investigating them reflects the assumption made by society at large that criminality is not involved in workplace processes. The author points to the commonly held view that as commercial activity has a social value the risk taken by a business organisation is likely to be justifiable and so should not be labelled as ‘criminal’, a term more traditionally given to gratuitously anti-social behaviour.


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