Health and safety performance: no change or all change?
Rhian Greaves
01/11/2018

As we fall back into winter, the clocks change and with its usual annual synchronicity, another set of HSE statistics is published.  This year, as in others in recent memory, we see a largely consistent picture emerge of a nation outperforming its EU counterparts but failing to make any significant inroads into the headline KPIs upon which the HSE report is premised.

The figures typically promote lively debate about what is being done well and where there is room for improvement; and rightly so.  But away from the headline rates, there are already signs of change.  Whilst too early to found firm conclusions, they perhaps betray a changing and more open reporting culture which, if true, is to be welcomed.

The headlines

The “key facts” for 2017/18 remain largely unchanged from last year:-

  • 4m cases of work related ill health (up 7%)
  • £9.7bn annual cost of new cases of work related ill health (no change)
  • 6m non-fatal injuries to workers (no change)
  • 7m lost working days (down 1.6%)
  • 144 fatal injuries to workers (up 5%)
  • £5.2bn annual cost of work related injury (down 1.8%)
  • 6m cases of work related stress, depression or anxiety (up 20%)
  • 4m working days lost to work related stress, anxiety or depression (up 23.2%)
  • 493 cases concluded resulting in conviction (down 16%)
  • 11,522 enforcement notices served (down 3%)
  • Conviction rate 95% (no change)
  • Total fines collected £72.6m (3.9% increase)
  • Average fine per conviction £147,000 (up 16.7%)

Away from the headlines

We have seen a relatively consistent picture emerge over the past five years and many of the key performance indicators have, more or less, flat lined.  Whilst debate will no doubt ensue as to how we might do things differently to kick start another improvement in performance, we should not lose sight of the fact that, as a nation, our accomplishments in health and safety are outstanding when compared internationally.  For example, amongst EU counterparts, we have consistently the lowest fatal injury rate within the large EU economies.

Away from the static headlines though, there are some areas of flux:-

  • This year saw a 20% increase in cases of work related stress, depression or anxiety. These are estimated self-reporting figures based on the Labour Force Survey, as these conditions are not reportable under RIDDOR.  However, one wonders whether work is actually becoming more stressful or whether we have moved to an environment in which individuals who previously felt unable to speak up, now feel sufficiently emboldened to do so?  Certainly the visibility of conversations surrounding mental health in the workplace has been welcomed but is this a sign that they are having the intended positive effect?

 

  • The data underlying those figures also shows that reports from women in virtually all age groups is higher both that the average across all persons and the level in the previous year. Is this an indicator of an actual disparity in incidence rate between the sexes or a greater willingness on the part of women to now report?

 

  • There has been a 16% drop in the number of HSE cases prosecuted and resulting in conviction during the year. Whilst the conviction rate remains constant at 95%, it seems likely that the continuing squeeze on HSE resources is impacting upon the enforcement activities undertaken.  This is perhaps supported by the 6% drop in Improvement and Prohibition Notices served.

There has been a modest increase in the total fines collected, up 3.9%.  Whilst this suggests the judiciary are hitting their stride with the Sentencing Guidelines, it is worth reflecting on just how far we have come in the past few years.  In 2014/15 the average fine per offence was £29,000.  The figure for 2017/18 stands at a staggering £147,000, an increase of more than 400%.

What does the HSE say?

Commenting on the release, Martin Temple, HSE Chair said, “These figures should serve as a reminder to us of the importance to manage risk and undertake good health and safety practice in the work place.

“Great Britain’s health and safety record is something we should all be proud of, but there is still much to be done to ensure that every worker goes home at the end of their working day safe and healthy.

“Collectively we must take responsibility to prevent these incidents that still affect too many lives every year, and continue to all play our part in Helping Great Britain Work Well.”

Whatever your view on the statistics, these are sentiments we can all get behind.

If you have any queries or would like to discuss any of the matters raised, please contact Rhian Greaves on 0161 393 9072.

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