How Does the Health & Safety Executive Prevent Workplace Accidents?

29/12/2018

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Despite stringent regulations and supervisory activities by the HSE (Health & Safety Executive), the statistics reveal that in 2017-18, there were 144 fatalities at work and 1.4 million people succumbed to a work-related illness.  As a result, over 30 million working days were lost across the UK which cost businesses an estimated £15 billion in lost productivity.

The goal of the HSE is to shape and periodically review the regulations, produce research, publicise the statistics to encourage greater compliance with the rules, inspect businesses and if necessary, enforce the law.  It’s obvious that HSE inspectors can’t physically inspect every single one of the estimated 5.2 million businesses in the UK.  Therefore, they concentrate their efforts on sectors which have higher incidents of workplace accidents, incidents and work-related illnesses.  Other businesses might only be inspected if they believe there might be reason for concern.  This could be because of a complaint raised by a worker or former employee, for example.

While carrying out an inspection, their method is to talk to those employed by the firm (at all levels), observe the working practices and assess the relevant documentation (such as training procedures and assess to information regarding health and safety).  They also have to examine the risk controls in place and judge whether they are effective.  Once they have identified breaches in the regulations, this doesn’t necessarily mean a prosecution.  Some breaches can be dealt with more effectively by a face-to-face meeting or a written communication explaining what changes have to be made.

The work carried out by the HSE isn’t anecdotal. Instead, their method is based on science- and evidence-based case studies to pinpoint problems in a report and then work out ways to reduce the risks to workers employed in the industry.  Apart from their scientific specialists at their Buxton laboratory, HSE also has a Chemicals Regulations Division (CRD) based in York.  They also contract specialists in their respective fields from private industry, consultancy agencies, government labs and UK universities.  As a result of their wide-reaching responsibilities and duty of care for industries as different as food production and mining, they employ, or have commissioned work from, over 850 different science and engineering experts.  The funding for their work comes from governmental grants and shared commercial sources.  However, the HSE doesn’t directly award research grants.