Health and safety has had a bad press in recent times. With the tightening up of regulations, the perceived image is that of being able to hardly do anything in the workplace now without ‘health and safety’ being a significant factor.
What can’t be in doubt is how tighter health and safety regulations have had an effect on death at work statistics. In 2014/15 according to the HSE (Health and Safety Executive), the number of workers fatally injured was 142 compared to 229 in 2008 – and workplace fatalities have generally reduced year on year since 1999/2000.
Along with workers themselves, members of the public are unfortunately sometimes casualties of poor health and safety measures at a business premises they are visiting or happen to be nearby – some 102 succumbed in 2014/15, according to the HSE.
Inevitably, certain industries are more hazardous than others. Generally, agriculture tops the table followed by construction with transport in third place. At the other end of the scale, finance and education are amongst the safest industries.
It’s not just the safety of the premises and equipment used that health and safety looks for. Proper training for a specific task is expected both in terms of the procedures for the activity in question and the worker’s proficiency in using any equipment required. This has lead to a growth in health and safety courses in recent years.
In June 2012, an employee died when crushed by a two tonne steel beam at a warehouse in Cardiff. The HSE prosecuted the worker’s employer having found the deceased hadn’t been trained in the procedures required in lifting the heavy steel columns safely. After the hearing, a HSE inspector commented that if the operation had been “appropriately supervised and employees given adequate training” the experienced warehouseman would still be alive.
The company concerned had to pay out over £200,000 in fines and costs.
Some companies hire health and safety consultants to advise on projects and help prepare for them. For example, preparation such as deciding what warning and safety signage is required is handled by consultants and project managers so everything is ready before work starts and satisfies the HSE.
That said, even these consultants don’t guarantee a company satisfies HSE requirements. There have been cases of companies being prosecuted even when adhering to health and safety consultants’ recommendations.
The HSE has recommended procedures for employees who have concerns about their employer’s health and safety at work provisions.
Starting with raising concerns direct with the employer, there are procedures in place for reporting them to the HSE and the ‘whistleblowing’ procedure that need to be followed carefully.
The official whistleblowing procedures ensure protection under employment law against unfair dismissal so misgivings can be articulated with confidence.
Even non-fatal injuries – such as the usual ‘slips, trips and falls’ – can cause major problems for employees and employers alike. Sometimes a basic trip or slip can cause a long-term injury, and these accidents combine to cost employers over £500 million a year in lost production and other costs according to the HSE.
Jill Henderson is a representative for Cube Health and Safety Signs who specialise in supplying health and safety signs for businesses.