What do the latest HSE statistics show?

The latest figures show there were 123 fatal worker accidents in the UK from April 2021 to March 2022, a figure broadly in line with pre-pandemic levels and annual worker deaths over the past decade.

HSE statistics show that falls from height remain the leading cause of death and the construction sector continues to be the industry with the most fatal accidents (30 in total). Agriculture, forestry and fishing, along with manufacturing follow closely behind with 22 fatal incidents each. 80 members of the public were also killed due to work-related accidents and 51,211 worker injuries were reported to the HSE under RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Illnesses and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013).

While the UK may have lower fatal injury rates than most European countries, it is still better than Ireland and Germany, among others, for which there is comparable data.

Why does it matter?

It is only a matter of time before businesses that fail to adequately manage risk fall foul of the regulator. Penalties for those who breach health and safety law are substantial. Prosecutions following a fatality are always possible and the HSE will often investigate wider business activity following such an incident. Furthermore, and of critical importance when dealing with health and safety, it is the risk of harm that may trigger enforcement action; no real harm must have occurred.

To check compliance with relevant legislation, the HSE will take a proactive approach (such as their recent construction campaign involving 1,000 inspections resulting in over 600 enforcement notices) as well as a reactive approach. In the last 12 months, HSE statistics show that it responded to 87,200 public inquiries and concerns, in addition to receiving leads through RIDDOR and other reporting sources.

In 2021/22 the HSE issued 6,900 improvement and prohibition notices and reported a 96% conviction rate for prosecutions. Of course, the HSE benefits from the fee for intervention scheme which allows them to recover their costs upon discovery of a subjective (in the inspector’s ‘opinion’) material breach and regardless of whether enforcement action follows, there is a genuine attempt to get inspectors on site and inspecting regularly.

In more serious cases, fines imposed continue to increase under Sentencing Council guidelines implemented in 2016. Six individual fines issued by the HSE in the past 12 months exceeded £1 million, including two of the largest ever , with Northern Gas Networks Limited being fined £5m and Cleveland Bridge UK Limited receiving a £1.5m penalty. A range of prison terms were also handed down to guilty directors setting a new tone for individual enforcement action.

What should you do now?

Health and safety must be a cornerstone within an organisation, from director and board level to junior starters, particularly in high-risk industries. Regular legal and compliance audits should identify areas of non-compliance and help prevent even the best policies and procedures from falling behind. Ensuring that hazards are routinely assessed, equipment is properly maintained, and appropriate information, instruction, and supervision is provided to employees and contractors is essential.

Independent advice and accreditation can help to ensure best practice and reduce risk by identifying any blind spots in the business. Accreditation schemes also help to demonstrate to the regulator that a business is compliant and serious about risk management. Industry specific accreditation may suit your business, however it is also wise to look outside your sector or industry to see how others invest in achieving health and safety best practice.

Cultural investment is as important as financial investment and ensuring that action is taken against those who do not follow the rules to avoid bad habits seeping into habit and practice is essential to success. Training should not become a ‘check the box’ exercise, but rather be targeted, relevant, engaging and accessible. Good practice, near miss reporting and speaking up should be encouraged.

Ultimately, don’t be afraid to challenge your existing structure, take a step back and ask yourself ‘are we really doing a good job or have we just been lucky to have no accidents?’

What does the future look like?

The HSE recently held its first General Meeting and published its 10-year Protecting People and Places strategy. In the coming year, the regulator plans to carry out 14,000 proactive inspections and over the next decade to redouble efforts to investigate employers who show a disregard for risk management.

The HSE is also expanding its legal team, paving the way for more efficient prosecutions and a continued trend of increasing fines. It is more important than ever that businesses take the appropriate steps to review and improve existing health and safety initiatives to protect themselves and their employees.

By admin

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