Following an extensive consultation process with stakeholders including wep:HSE, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) formally launched its strategy: “The Health and Safety of Great Britain: be part of the solution”, on 3 June 2009.
The strategy resets and reaffirms the direction for health and safety, and reflects a collective agreement that renewed momentum is needed to improve health and safety performance across the board. It acknowledges the need for health and safety companies to be able to respond to a wide range of risks, and identify new ways of engaging workforces of varying sizes across all sectors.
With specific goals relating to strong leadership, improved competence, engaged workforces and support for SMEs, wep:HSE believes that stakeholders from government and regulators to businesses, trade unions, professional bodies and workers all need to collaborate to deliver against the objectives set. All parties have a role to play in ensuring that action is taken to achieve positive outcomes, and that health and safety remains a high priority, even during challenging economic times. Sound business management and good health and safety are inextricably linked, and both are needed now more than ever.
Each year, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) publishes health and safety statistics for Great Britain. The statistics cover the incidence, number and type of ill-health incidents, as well as the incidence and number of accidents and fatalities, and days lost through ill-health and injury.
These statistics show that the number of workplace fatalities continues to fall, but wep:HSE maintains that any deaths in the workplace are unacceptable and entirely avoidable. The construction sector is a particular area of concern and wep:HSE works closely with regulators, duty holders and all stakeholders to eliminate the unacceptable level of major and fatal accidents that occur on sites across the country.
It is worth noting that in addition to site incidents, approximately 1,000 workers die each year as a result of work-related road accidents, and many thousands more die from cancer and other diseases that are a legacy of asbestos and other harmful substances.
wep:HSE is disappointed at the slow progress towards achieving the Revitalising Health and Safety targets and has played a leading role in debating the new HSE strategy, which focuses on the actions necessary to tackle accidents and ill-health in the workplace.
Key facts from the HSE statistics:
- 151 workers were killed in 2009/10 compared to 178 in 2008/09, and 292 in 2000.
- 29.3 million days were lost in 2008/09 (24.6 million due to ill health and 4.7 million due to workplace injury.
- The HSE issued 8056 enforcement notices in 2008/09.
- Local authorities issued 6,340 enforcement notices in the same period.
- 1,090 offences were prosecuted by the HSE in 2008/09.
- 329 offences were prosecuted by local authorities in the same period.
Separate from the introduction of the new Corporate Manslaughter legislation, there has been growing pressure over the last ten years for the introduction of a new “positive” duty on all directors, irrespective of ownership, size of company or sector, to ensure that risks to their employees’ health and safety are properly controlled. The HSE is currently considering its advice to the Government on this matter.
While we believe the case is yet to be made for new legal duties and await the HSE position, wep:HSE is committed to ensuring that all directors have the necessary training and competence to provide effective health and safety leadership, and take responsibility for ensuring risks of workplace injury and ill-health are properly controlled.
At present, there is a mix of legislative and voluntary measures in place relating to director responsibility and leadership. S37 of the Health and Safety at Work Act allows the HSE and local authorities to prosecute individual directors for health and safety offences, but the evidential test is difficult to meet and prosecutions are therefore infrequent. There were only 90 convictions under S37 between 1994 and 2004.
wep:HSE submitted its views with respect to the introduction of new legal duties to the HSE in November 2009: “Our policy position concerning director responsibility for, and leadership on health and safety remains unchanged. We strongly believe that directors, both individually and collectively, in all organisations regardless of size or sector, should take responsibility for ensuring that the risks associated with the health and safety of workers are effectively controlled. Unless directors take this responsibility and provide leadership we stand little chance of achieving our targets for reducing the incidence of workplace injury and ill-health.”
wep:HSE recognises that more needs to be done to help SMEs overcome the obstacles they encounter in accessing affordable and appropriate information, advice and training on health and safety management.
Small businesses are vital to the UK economy both in terms of the share of the GDP they generate and the number of jobs they create, both directly and indirectly. Evidence shows that a significant number of small businesses do not have an adequate appreciation and understanding of their legal responsibilities for environmental management, and the health and safety of their employees, and others affected by their work activities.
Evidence also suggests that many directors of SMEs have not been trained to develop the competence necessary to manage health and safety risks. Similarly, many employees of SMEs have not had appropriate training relating to the risks they face.
In recent years, the Government, regulators, trade associations and health and safety bodies have made considerable efforts to improve access to health and safety information, guidance and training. However, research shows that the smaller the business, the greater the difficulty they have in accessing support, and in managing key risks. wep:HSE is determined to address this issue, and has been established to work with SMEs by providing affordable and relevant advice, guidance and training.
A young person is injured at work every 40 minutes in the UK. In the last ten years, 66 under-19s have been killed in the workplace, and evidence suggests that young people, particularly those that work in the construction sector, are at a higher than average risk of being killed or injured at work. Many employers meet their legal and moral obligations with respect to the health and safety of their workforces but there are still those that do not take their responsibilities seriously.
wep:HSE is committed to helping young people working in the construction sector to appreciate, and play their part, in managing the risks they face in the workplace. This commitment extends to funding for entry level awareness qualifications. However, heightened awareness will count for little if young people are not properly protected through appropriate training and supervision, and as a result are injured or made ill through work. Our “Speak Up, Stay Safe” campaign is a central element of our work to help ensure the health and safety of young workers.
At wep:HSE, we believe that employers need to exercise far greater responsibility for their young workers, and that the regulator and courts should adopt a tougher stance when faced with instances of culpable non-compliance. We therefore call for greater investment in education and training for young workers, and for improved working conditions.
There is conflicting data available on the number of migrant workers currently employed in the UK, but it is estimated that they may make up to seven percent (two million) of the country’s working population, with a significant proportion of those employed in the construction sector.
It is similarly difficult to determine whether migrant workers are more at risk of workplace accidents than their indigenous colleagues but there is nonetheless a widely held view that more needs to be done to ensure that migrant workers have access to targeted advice and guidance in their own languages, and that key health and safety messages concerning risk in the workplace are communicated effectively.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is currently undertaking detailed analysis of data on accidents involving migrant workers, but wep:HSE supports the idea that migrant workers should be protected, and that their safety should remain an enforcement priority for the HSE and local authorities. To this end, wep:HSE is working with the HSE and the European Agency to gather evidence on the risks faced by migrant workers and evaluate the efficacy of the measures in place to protect them.
While it is important to continue highlighting the number of fatalities that occur each year from workplace accidents, at wep:HSE we also believe it is vital not to lose sight of the number of deaths resulting from work-related diseases. Across the UK, deaths resulting from occupational-related cancer range from 7,000 to 24,000 per annum, with asbestos still the single biggest contributory factor.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has established a tight legal framework that is vigorously enforced, and introduced a raft of measures designed to drive down exposure to carcinogenic substances in the workplace. At wep:HSE, we support occupational cancer initiatives and interventions, including campaigns such as “Hidden Killer”, and stress the ongoing importance of obtaining sound evidence on the number of work-related cancer deaths in the UK.