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Published 28 November 2022
On 23rd November, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published its annual statistics on work related ill-health and workplace injuries for the 2021/22 period.
The HEADLINE figures …
Work-related mental illness on the rise?
The figures reveal a worrying trend with cases of stress, depression and anxiety making up around half of the overall number of workers suffering from a work-related illness. This is an increase of 92,000 from the previous year. It is higher than the 2018/19 pre-coronavirus pandemic levels, and the effects of the pandemic were found to be a major contributory factor.
The HSE has tried to address this trend, launching its ‘Working Minds’ campaign in November 2021. HSE are calling for a culture change across Great Britain’s workplaces where recognising and responding to the signs of stress becomes routine. The campaign is aimed specifically at supporting small businesses and those in target sectors including agriculture, construction, health, manufacturing, and motor trade repairs. Its goal is to provide employers and workers with advice that is easy to implement, using simple steps in its ‘5 Rs’ to Reach out, Recognise, Respond, Reflect, and make it Routine. Reducing work-related ill health, with a specific focus on mental health and stress, is also one of the HSE’s five strategic objectives as set out in its 2022/23 Business Plan.
A downward trend for non-fatal and fatal workplace incidents?
RIDDOR reported non-fatal injuries increased from 51,211 (2020/21) to 61,713 (2021/22). However, prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the rate of non-fatal injury to employees reported by employers showed a downward trend, and the current rate is below the pre-pandemic levels.
This year saw a decrease in fatalities in the workplace from 142 (2020/21) to 123 (2021/22). 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.
Undoubtedly, HSE played a critical role in the national response to the coronavirus pandemic, including the development of cross-government COVID-secure guidance for businesses focused on the practical measures needed to work safely during the pandemic. HSE was required to prioritise its resources to ensure that key sector workplaces were COVID-secure and could remain 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. This clearly had an impact on its overall enforcement capacity in 2020/21. Only 58% of investigations into fatal incidents were completed within 12 months. HSE issued 2,929 enforcement notices in 2020/21, a decrease of 58% from the previous year. A total of 199 cases of health and safety breaches were prosecuted, 185 of which resulted in a conviction. Of course, court closures during the first lockdown and subsequent pandemic restrictions affected both investigations and court proceedings. Even now, there is a significant backlog of cases in the court system.
HSE no longer publishes enforcement statistics with its annual statistical release relating to work related ill-health and workplace injuries. This information was published in October in HSE’s annual report and accounts for 2021/22. Enforcement activity has increased in line with the declining impact of the coronavirus pandemic. 82% of investigations into fatal incidents were completed within 12 months (against a 80% target), and 93% of investigations into non-fatal incidents were completed within 12 months (against a 90% target). Over 6,900 enforcement notices were issued, and HSE completed 290 prosecutions, 274 of them being successful (i.e. a 96% conviction rate).
However, there has been an overall downward trend in the number of prosecutions since 2016. HSE emphasises that there have been no changes to its policy for decision-making but the introduction of a sentencing guideline for health and safety prosecutions that came into force in February 2016 has led to prosecutions taking longer. This may be due to more cases of alleged health and safety breaches being defended or the complexities that we often experience leading up to sentencing hearings. 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 such as resources. The total cost of running HSE in 2021/22 was £267 million, which was an increase by £17 million compared to 2020/21 and reflects the extra funding it received from the government to deliver its key programmes of activity, including the set up of the new Building Safety Regulator.
There were 5 prosecutions during 2021/22 resulting in fines of over £1 million, and 52 HSE prosecutions resulting in custodial or community service/rehabilitation orders.
What to expect in 2023?
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. We can expect a continued focus on these sectors. HSE’s priorities as set out in its 2022/23 Business Plan include (i) reducing work-related ill health, with a specific focus on mental health and stress, (ii) increasing and maintaining trust to ensure people feel safe where they live, where they work and, in their environment, (iii) enabling industry to innovate safely to prevent major incidents, whilst supporting the move towards net zero, (iv) maintaining Great Britain’s record as one of the safest countries to work in.
With regard to the mental health and wellbeing of Great Britain’s workforce Sarah Albon, HSE’s Chief Executive, has commented in response to the statistics: “Stress and poor mental health is the number one cause of work-related ill health. The effects of stress, depression, and anxiety can have a significant impact on an employee’s life and on their ability to perform their best at work. Britain is one of the safest places in the world to work but we need all employers to do more and take seriously their responsibilities to support good mental health at work.”
Overall, it is likely that these statistics will incentivise the HSE to be more rigorous with their inspections and investigations to prevent future work place injuries, illness and fatalities. We recommend that organisations continue to review and update their health and safety procedures and policies in line with HSE guidance (with a particular focus on mental health), 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.
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