What lessons can employers learn from the HSE’s statistics for 2014/2015?

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The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published its annual health and safety statistics.

The good news is that Great Britain remains one of the safest places to work in Europe. Even so:

  • 1.2 million working people are suffering from a work-related illness
  • 27.3 million working days were lost last year because of work-related illness or workplace injury
  • the cost to society of work-related illness or workplace injury is £14.3 billion
  • 142 workers were killed at work last year
  • 76,000 other injuries to employees were reported under RIDDOR
  • 611,000 injuries occurred at work, according to the Labour Force Survey.

A total of 586 cases were prosecuted in England and Wales by the HSE, with a further 70 prosecutions brought by local authorities.

The statistics are strongly in line with recent trends. The general downward trend in the rate of fatal injuries at work is slowing. The construction, agricultural and waste sectors have the highest rate of fatal injuries. Similarly, it seems that the downward trend of non-fatal injuries reported under RIDDOR is slowing, as is the downward trend for self-reported non-fatal injuries.

The statistics cite a 2014 national survey of the most obvious workplace risks. These are:

  • dealing with difficult customers/patients/pupils, etc
  • heavy lifting
  • other physical risks that contribute to musculoskeletal disorders.

Around 80 per cent of the newly reported work-related conditions were either musculoskeletal disorders or were stress, depression or anxiety, which supports the survey’s findings.

The UK compares favourably with other European countries in all key outcomes – the number of fatal injuries and non-fatal injuries, rates of sick leave and the conduct of risk assessments.

The publication of the annual statistics coincides with the publication of the Sentencing Council’s definitive guidelines for health and safety offences, corporate manslaughter and food safety and hygiene offences. The guidelines, which come into effect on 1 February 2016, are likely to result in some offenders, particularly larger organisations, receiving much higher fines than would presently be the case.

Once in force, the courts will be required to assess the overall seriousness of the offence based on the offender’s culpability and the risk of serious harm regardless of the harm caused. The guidelines set a starting point and range of possible fines based on the gravity of the offence and also reflecting the size of the organisation concerned. Fines may exceed £10 million for health and safety offences and £20 million for corporate manslaughter cases. The guidelines also list aggravating (and mitigating) features. These include the presence (or absence) of previous convictions.

What can organisations do to keep their employees safe and well?

Organisations need to ensure that:

  • their health and safety policy is comprehensive and up to date and is reviewed regularly
  • their health and safety policy is bespoke to their specific business needs
  • a responsible person with knowledge of health and safety legislation is in charge of the organisation’s health and safety policy
  • regular health and safety audits are carried out to ensure that practices and procedures are being followed and to identify any new health and safety risks which arise
  • they have a full suite of health and safety risk assessments and that any issues identified by the assessments have been properly addressed
  • all employees are fully trained and subject to refresher training at appropriate intervals on health and safety issues and records are kept of the company’s procedures and training employees are provided with appropriate protective clothing and equipment
  • where an organisation has a number of branches or offices, its health and safety policy is implemented and enforced throughout.

It is not enough simply to have all of the above in place; it must be implemented in practice and reinforced by a committed health and safety culture. It is essential that organisations (including directors and senior managers) understand the importance of their health and safety obligations and take compliance with those obligations seriously. The culture of health and safety compliance must start in the boardroom and feed down to the shop floor in order to ensure that policies and procedures are firmly embedded within the organisation.

How can Walker Morris help?

The Regulatory team at Walker Morris includes former prosecutors and has many years of experience helping clients to navigate their way through the complexities of a health and safety investigation. The Walker Morris Team offers a complete range of health and safety services, including drafting health and safety policies, delivering training, carrying out audits and, if the worst should happen, helping to deal with the consequences of an accident and any subsequent prosecution. The importance of correctly managing a serious incident from the outset could be the difference between securing an acquittal and suffering a substantial fine and irreparable reputational damage.