Feeling the pinch
Rhian Greaves

Like all public services, the HSE has had to bear its fair share of cuts since 2009/10; indeed it has seen a 46% reduction in central Government funding in that time.  So it was perhaps no surprise to see that this week’s annual statistics release from the regulator confirmed what those of us in practice have been seeing over the past few years; a continued drop in enforcement activity.

The publication of the Executive’s annual statistics ought to provide food for thought for all employers.  This year is no different.  Headlines include:-

  • 28.2m working days lost due to work related ill health and workplace injury;
  • an estimated cost to the economy of £15bn;
  • 147 workers killed during the course of their employment;
  • 92 members of the public killed due to work activities;
  • 1.4m people suffering from work related ill health; and
  • 602,000 workers suffering from work related stress, depression or anxiety.

Industries with statistically significantly higher injury rates included:-

  • agriculture, forestry and fishing;
  • construction;
  • public administration/defence;
  • wholesale/retail; repair of motor vehicles;
  • accommodation/food service activities; and
  • manufacturing.

Turning to the enforcement perspective, the picture across the board shows consistently less activity from the HSE:-

  • 28% reduction in the number of cases reaching a verdict; and
  • a small but sustained reduction in enforcement notices, with a 4% drop in Prohibition Notices and a 1% reduction in Improvement Notices.

Where prosecutions have been pursued, there has been a drop in the conviction rate, from 95% to 92%.  That said there remain industries where every single case pursued has resulted in a guilty plea or verdict.  Sectors in that bracket include:-

  • water supply and waste management;
  • transportation and storage; and
  • mining and quarrying.

Employers in the North West remain the most heavily prosecuted.  In line with the national picture however, the region has seen one third fewer cases reach a conclusion than in the previous year. 

With conviction rates remaining high, the spectre of sentencing continues to be at the forefront.  Here there has been a significant 24% drop in the overall fines collected (from £71.5m to £54.5m).  Interestingly however the average fine per conviction continues to rise, albeit at a slower rate than in recent years, now standing at £149,661.

Looking at the detail:-

  • the manufacturing sector was again the most heavily fined contributing nearly 40% to the total fines imposed.  Whilst that figure was a 15% reduction on the previous year, the fine per conviction went up by 8% to £210,058
  • construction followed with total fines of £15.7m (down 12%) but with an increased fine per conviction of £107,794 (up 14%);
  • utility supply was the sector with the highest average fine per conviction (standing at £605,000), followed by transportation and storage at £243,731, the latter industry also having a 100% conviction rate.

As a country however, we continue to out perform our European neighbours from a health and safety perspective, a point rightly noted by HSE Chair Martin Temple.  “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”. Like other regulators, the HSE will continue to strive to manage with its ever reducing budget and an analysis based on enforcement statistics is far too simplistic to give the whole picture.  However, a strong and properly resourced regulator is a key component in the daily challenge of improving our health and safety performance as a whole.

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