The HSE has released its key statistics for 2019/2020, and as ever they make interesting reading. They are a stark reminder of the impact which poor health and safety has upon the lives of those at work.
In addition to those headline statistics, it is worth noting that:
- 32.5m working days were lost due to work-related ill-health in 2019/2020;
- 17.9m working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2019/2020;
- 480,000 workers were suffering from work-related muscular skeletal disorders (new or long-standing) in 2019/2020;
- An estimated 12,000 lung disease deaths are estimated to be linked to past exposures at work;
- The annual cost of work-related injury and ill-health including long latency illness such as cancer amounted to £16.2b.
Against this backdrop HSE have published their enforcement statistics which show an overall decline year on year in the number of prosecution cases brought by the HSE and by the Procurator Fiscal in Scotland:
- 325 cases were prosecuted resulting in a total of £35.8m in fines.
- 7,075 Enforcement Notices were issued by the HSE although it is noted that data collection for Notices was impacted by Covid-19.
- The average fine per case in 2019/2020 was £110,000 and a total of 7 cases resulted in fines of £1m or more.
Notably, the number of convictions resulting in a penalty other than a fine (typically immediate custody, community sentence or a suspended sentence) amounted to over 30% of the sentencing outcomes.
A number of industries continue to record significantly higher than average rates of workplace injury and include:
- Agriculture, forestry and fishing;
- Accommodation and food services;
- Wholesale/retail trade (including motor vehicle repairs).
Needless to say, 2020 from the health and safety perspective has been an interesting and unusual year with the addition of Covid-19 risks to manage. This has resulted in exceptional new challenges for all businesses in terms of workplace safety. HSE report that the number of Covid notifications made to enforcing authorities has been generally increasing week on week since early September 2020 with the onset of the second wave of Covid-19.
During the period 10 April – 14 November 2020, 14,428 occupational diseases notifications of Covid-19 in workers were reported to enforcement authorities, with 189 death notifications. Of these reports around a third have been made since early September 2020.
Whilst enforcement shows a downwards trend, to some extent, this will have been affected by the closure of the Court system as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, year on year statistics for enforcement do show a downward trend and it is hoped that this will continue. The management of health and safety remains a key business risk not just because of the risk of enforcement, but because of the human cost of work-related ill-health and injury upon the individuals affected. The impact on a business, however, runs to more than just the financial cost – it impacts upon the brand, reputation, employee engagement, business efficiency and sustainability, and the ability to win new work and to attract new talent.
There is no doubt that investment in health and safety makes good business sense. If things do go wrong, it pays to already have in place an emergency response plan and for those involved in executing that plan to have a clear understanding of how to manage an incident, how to deal with the HSE and HSE powers, how to investigate an accident and when to involve your legal advisors. Getting the right advice early on in the process is absolutely key and can make a substantial difference to the overall outcome.