As we begin to approach the end of 2019, it is that time of year again when the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in festive spirit, release their annual statistics for work related ill health, workplace injuries, working days lost, enforcement action taken, and the associated costs to Great Britain.
Work Related Injury and Ill Health Statistics
This year saw a slight increase in fatalities in the work place to 147 from 144 in 2017/18. The rate of fatal injury shows a long-term downward trend since 2012/13, but has been broadly flat in recent years. Nevertheless, Great Britain's work place fatality rate remains low in comparison to other European countries.
According to the HSE and based on the Labour Force Survey, 581,000 injuries occurred at work in 2018/19, which is an increase from the estimated 555,000 in 2017/18. RIDDOR reported injuries, however, decreased to 69,208 from 71,062 in 2017/18.
New or long-standing cases of work related ill health remained at 1.4 million, 37% of which related to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), 44% to work related stress, depression and anxiety and 19% related to other non-specified work related ill health. In 2016/17, work related stress, depression and anxiety became the biggest work related illness in Great Britain, overtaking MSDs. This continued in 2018/19 with 602,000 new or long standing cases of work related stress, depression and anxiety compared to 498,000 cases of MSDs. The HSE have noticed signs of this relatively flat rate of work related stress, depression and anxiety increasing in recent years. Workload, lack of support, violence, threats or bullying and changes at work are considered to be the main causes of work related stress, depression or anxiety based on the Labour Force Survey data.
Mesothelioma deaths decreased slightly to 2,526 from 2,595 in 2017/18, whilst all lung disease deaths linked to past work experience remained the same at 12,000. The HSE estimate that there is likely to be around 2,500 mesothelioma deaths per year for the remainder of the decade before lung disease deaths begin to decline due to current health and safety policies and intervention.
It is estimated that the overall cost of work related injuries and ill health was £15 billion in 2017/18, and the number of working days lost due work related ill health and injuries was 28.2 million in 2018/19. Work related stress, depression and anxiety continues to be the nation's biggest work related illness and this years' statistics reinforce this to be a priority focus for the HSE.
In 2018/19, 11,040 enforcement notices were issued compared to 11,522 in 2017/18. There was also a decrease in prosecutions resulting in a conviction from 493 in 2017/18 to 364 in 2018/19, continuing the trend from previous years. The total amount of fines issued of £54.5 million in 2018/19 is a significant decrease compared to the previous years' total of £72.6 million. However, the average fine per conviction is at the same level so this decrease would appear to be related to the fall in the number of cases being prosecuted or convictions achieved. The HSE's annual report on their accounts for 2018/19 confirmed that there was a proportionate reduction in the number of investigations being completed within 12 months of an incident, and the reasons for this being the technical complexity of particular cases, and evidential challenges and delays often caused by others and which are outside of the HSE's control. Accordingly, whilst the risk of prosecution resulting in conviction has reduced, the level of penalty is unchanged and continues to have a significant financial impact on organisations.
The downward trend in overall enforcement action by the HSE begs the wider question whether it is due to a reduction in the HSE's resources or whether the HSE's resources are being diverted? For instance, the HSE's 'Fee For Intervention' (FFI) scheme was designed to recover costs incurred by the HSE during investigations of businesses that are subsequently found be in 'material breach' of safety and health law, thus transferring the financial burden from the taxpayer to the business. However, in 2017/18 the HSE reported a £1.9m loss from running FFI after the £15 million it generated from costs recovered from businesses was offset by its operating costs, which totalled almost £17 million. There is also evidence that there have been more contentious and lengthier sentencing hearings, taking up the HSE's resources.
Nevertheless, organisations should remain vigilant and proactive with regard to health and safety management. Since the introduction of the Sentencing Guidelines, we have seen a dramatic increase in the level of fines as a result of convictions by the HSE considering that the total amount of fines in 2015/16 was £38.3 million compared to last years' high of £72.6 million.
Conclusion and what to expect in 2020?
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. A particular focus in the HSE's Business Plan for 2019/20 is for planned proactive inspections is of principal designer services to put in place the requirements of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015. There are also inspection programmes and targets for the agriculture and waste sectors.
A key priority in the HSE's 2019/20 Business Plan is the continued focus on tackling ill health as part of the Health and Work programme, with particular attention on MSDs and work related stress, depression and anxiety.
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, Martin Temple, HSE Chair, has commented: "Great Britain's position as one of the safest places to work should be a point of pride for us all, but these figures show there is still much to be done to ensure workers go home both healthy and safe. These figures should highlight to us all the vital importance of managing risk and promoting behaviours to improve the standard of good health and safety practice in the workplace. We must all share the responsibility of ensuring everybody is aware of what they need to do to work right by preventing work-related incidents, and making our places of work healthier and safer for everyone."
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.