Health and safety regulations can sometimes seem like an easy target for some tabloids, who circulate unfounded myths about bans on playground conker games and trapeze artists in hard hats, which the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) must then go on to disprove.
But as the HSE’s latest statistics show, health and safety regulations continue to be vital to ensuring Britain stays safe at work. We’ve come a long way from the days of 1833, when up to 40 per cent of accidents treated at Manchester General Infirmary had occurred in a factory, when thousands of men, women and children were injured or killed each year working in cotton factories alone, or when permanent hearing loss from exposure to loud machinery was simply considered 'a part of the job'.
Fatalities and injuries
The HSE’s 2013/14 figures show that over the last 20 years, the number of workers fatally injured at work in the UK has halved. Still, 133 workers lost their lives during this period, which is 133 too many, but it shows great strides have been made nonetheless.
Of the 133 fatalities:
- 106 occurred in England - a rate of 0.41 deaths per 100,000 workers, and down from 119 deaths the year before.
- 20 of the fatal injuries took place in Scotland – a rate of 0.78 deaths per 100,000 workers, and a decrease from the 23 deaths recorded in 2012/13.
- 7 fatal injuries were recorded in Wales – a rate of 0.52 deaths per 100,000 workers, a slight reduction on the 8 deaths recorded the year before.
In the same period, the HSE recorded a total of 77,593 non-fatal injuries to workers, of which the most common were caused by slips and trips (28 per cent), handling, lifting or carrying (24 per cent), or being struck by moving objects (10 per cent).
Occupational ill health
However, it is not all improvements. Latest HSE figures show past exposure to asbestos at work is still causing deaths in the present, with 2,535 deaths from asbestos-related mesothelioma recorded in 2012, up from 2,291 in 2011, and a figure almost matched by the number of lung cancer deaths from asbestos. These illnesses take many years to develop, meaning many workers are now paying the price for unsafe working conditions of the past.
As Judith Hackitt of the HSE explains:
“The high numbers of deaths relating to mesothelioma are a reminder of historically poor standards of workplace health and safety, which decades later are causing thousands of painful, untimely deaths each year.
“While we now recognise and are better positioned to manage such health risks, these statistics are a stark reminder of the importance of keeping health standards in the workplace on a par with those we apply to safety.”
Health and safety enforcement
With health and safety failures potentially resulting in possible fines that can run into millions of pounds, or even a prison sentence, organisations cannot afford to neglect occupational health and safety.
674 cases were prosecuted for breaches of health and safety in 2013/14 across Great Britain, leading to 636 convictions for at least one offence – an impressive conviction rate of 94 per cent - with the total amount in fines received reaching £18 million. A breakdown by country shows 639 cases brought by HSE or local authorities in England and Wales, with 602 convictions secured, and 35 cases brought in front of the Procurator Fiscal in Scotland (up 25 per cent from the year before), resulting in 34 convictions.
UK versus Europe
While every country measures health and safety adherence slightly differently, Eurostat collates and publishes standardised data to show important health and safety indicators, to give a Europe-wide comparison of different countries’ performances. Overall, the UK beats many other European countries in key areas, such as fatalities, injuries, and self-reported ill health related to work.
The UK achieved the third lowest rate of fatal injuries across Europe in 2011, performing consistently well compared to similarly large economies such as France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Poland. Meanwhile, rates of ill health through work in the UK, which resulted in sick leave, were lower in 2007 compared with most other EU countries.
Meanwhile the British Standard, OHSAS 18001:2007, which forms the business requirements for occupational health and safety internationally, is being taken up by an increasing number of companies and organisations looking to become accredited over the past few years.
OHSAS 18001, underpinned by the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle, provides a clear, robust framework that organisations can follow to ensure the workplace provides the right occupational health and safety for its employees. Its universal appeal means that OHSAS 18001 is increasingly a standard requirement for tendering processes in numerous industries, in order to unequivocally show an organisation’s compliance with health and safety procedures for its clients.
The Scottish Quality Management Centre (SQMC) has been assisting clients in Scotland and England in their pursuit of OHSAS 18001 registration (always through government approved Certification Bodies) for many years, and boasts a 100% record. Our consultants can guide you through the process of developing, documenting and implementing your formalised occupational health and safety management system. SQMC can then conduct your first internal audit of the system, or even carry out a 'mock assessment' audit, to highlight any issues that require amending before the real thing. And of course, we can train your staff to carry out your on-going internal audits, if you prefer not to out-source this duty.
Contact SQMC today to discuss your ongoing H&S or procurement requirements.