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Published 22 December 2021
As we approach the end of 2021, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in festive spirit, have released their annual statistics for work related ill-health, non-fatal workplace injuries and enforcement action taken during the 2020/21 period.
The HEADLINE figures …
Work related ill-health and injuries
There has been a slight decrease in cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety from 828,000 in 2019/20 to 822,000 this year. There has also been a decrease in cases of work-related musculoskeletal disorder from 480,000 to 470,000.
This year saw an increase in fatalities in the work place from 111 in 2019/20 to 142. However, the figure for 2019/20 was the lowest annual number on record and HSE has stressed that the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the economy in the final quarter of that year had probably contributed towards the decline. Overall, the rate of fatal injury shows a long-term downward trend since 2012/13, but has been broadly flat in recent years. The UK consistently has one of the lowest rates of fatal injury compared to other large European economies.
RIDDOR reported non-fatal injuries, however, decreased from 65,427 in 2019/18 to 51,211.
HSE has adopted two new measures to understand the contribution of the coronavirus pandemic to work-related ill-health. These will estimate:
93,000 workers suffered from COVID-19 which they believe to have been from exposure at work, and around half of those suffering were in the health and social care sector. An additional 645,000 workers suffered from a work-related illness caused or made worse by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, with 20% in the health and social care work sector.
Undoubtedly, HSE has played a critical role in the national response to the pandemic, including the development of cross-government COVID-secure guidance for businesses focused on the practical measures needed to work safely during the pandemic. However, and despite an additional £14.2 million funding made available in May 2020, HSE was required to reprioritise its resources to ensure that key sector workplaces were COVID-secure and could remain safely operational, and devised a smaller programme of inspections and campaigns for the high risk sectors compared to that it had originally planned for the year. Whilst HSE state in their annual report for 2020/21 that the timely completion of fatal incident investigations continues to be one of its highest priorities, and despite considerable efforts throughout the year, it acknowledges that it has not been possible to progress all investigations through to completion within 12 months of HSE taking over primacy, with completion of 58% of investigations into fatal incidents within this specified timeframe. There continues to be a number of reasons for this including technical complexity, evidential challenge and delays (e.g. court closures due to pandemic) – often outside of HSE’s control.
A total of 199 cases were prosecuted in 2020/21 by HSE or, in Scotland, referred to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service for prosecution. 185 of these cases resulted in a conviction, which represents a 93% conviction rate. The number of successful prosecutions is down from 325 compared to 2019/20. HSE has stated that the noticeable impact on prosecution numbers is due to court closures during the first lockdown and subsequent pandemic restrictions affecting both investigations and court hearings. However, the overall number of prosecutions has reduced each year since 2016. HSE emphasises that there have been no changes to its policy for decision-making but changes to sentencing guidelines for health and safety prosecutions that came into force in February 2016 have led to prosecutions taking longer. HSE has stated that it remains committed to prosecuting where there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction and it is in the public interest to do so and HSE is reviewing the factors which impinge on its prosecution work.
The amount taken in fines from successful prosecutions fell to £26.9 million from £34.9 million in 2019/20, but the average fine per case issued was higher compared to 2019/20. There have been 7 prosecutions during 2020/21 resulting in fines of over £1 million, and 22 HSE prosecutions resulting in custodial or community service/rehabilitation orders. Due to COVID-19, the number of enforcement notices issued by Local Authorities is not available for 2020/21. However, HSE issued 2,929 enforcement notices in 2020/21, a decrease of 58% from the previous year. The number of notices issued has generally fallen since 2016. Nevertheless, organisations should remain vigilant and proactive with regard to health and safety management.
What to expect in 2022?
There have been no significant changes to those industries in which there is a higher risk of sustaining an injury while at work, with construction and agriculture still amongst the high-risk sectors. HSE’s priorities as set out in its 2021/22 Business Plan includes (i) a continued focus on tackling ill-health as part of the Health and Work programme, (ii) carrying out spot checks and inspections to ensure workplaces are COVID-secure for workers and members of the public, and (iii) targeted interventions on specific sectors including agriculture, construction, and manufacturing.
Overall, work related injury and ill-health statistics continue to plateau, but they confirm the scale of the challenge that the HSE faces in making the nation a healthier and safer place to work. In response to the statistics, Sarah Albon, HSE’s Chief Executive, has commented: “These annual statistics are important to give us a clear picture of the health and safety risks faced by workers in the Great Britain and help to inform the measures HSE, employers, policy-makers and workers themselves need to take to ensure everyone can go home from work safe and well … The 12-month period in question coincides with the first national lockdown and the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic. There have been significant impacts on the labour market, which is reflected in our reporting … HSE continues to act as a proportionate and enabling regulator taking the most appropriate actions to achieve the best and quickest result. However, where employers fall short of expected standards, HSE will not hesitate to hold those responsible to account.”
It is, therefore, likely that these statistics will incentivise the HSE to be more rigorous with their inspections and investigations despite a reduction in resources to prevent future work place injuries, illness and deaths. We recommend that organisations continue to review and update their health and safety procedures and policies in line with HSE guidance, ensure that they are implemented by the workforce without creating new risks, and ensure that they are prepared for a visit from the HSE at all times by having a plan in place.
How we can help …
Our national Regulatory team advises organisations across a diverse range of sectors on compliance with their statutory health and safety, product safety and environmental obligations, and help them to manage their response to major incidents, and to protect their interests, particularly when faced with the threat of investigation or prosecution by the regulatory authorities. We also offer a wide range of training sessions and workshops. Please don't hesitate to contact us to discuss our services further.
+44 (0)163 365 7668
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