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Working at height remains leading cause of workplace deaths
Each year, the Health and Safety Executive releases its annual tally of fatal injuries sustained in British workplaces, providing vital data and guidance to help employers reduce the risks in their own workplaces. This year has seen a number of notable trends occurring with the figures, which have likely been at least partially influenced by the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s a very detailed report, so we’ve summed up some of its key findings below. (Unsurprisingly, it still heavily underlines the importance of working safely at height.)
What are the key findings of the report?
There were 111 people killed in the workplace in 2019/20, according to data collected through RIDDOR. Notably, this marks a drop in 38 fatal injuries from the previous year, and in fact it’s the lowest annual number on record. Since 2015/16, the annual average over the last few years has been 137, so 111 is quite a significant decrease.
The HSE has taken care to note that these statistics can be prone to year-on-year fluctuations, so some variance is to be expected. It’s likely that the Covid-19 pandemic influenced the figures to at least some degree, although it’s difficult to measure the extent of its effect. The HSE has said that partially due to both these factors, the drop in figures might not necessarily be indicative of any dramatic change in overall workplace safety across the UK.
Most industries have recorded a lower death toll than average over the past few years. The exceptions are the construction sector, and administration and support services, both of which have slightly exceeded their average.
Across all industries, the statistics noted:
Notable sector trends
As you can see from the figures above, construction remains the UK’s deadliest sector (accounting for nearly a third of workplace deaths) with agriculture, forestry and fishing following closely behind, itself accounting for 20% of worker deaths.
The death rate in the manufacturing sector is towards the lower end of its average established over the last few years, but hasn’t hit record-breaking lows just yet. At the moment, it’s about the same level as it was in 2017/18. Meanwhile, the transportation and storage sector accounts for about 10% of all workplace fatal injuries.
Although agriculture, forestry and fishing recorded the lowest number of fatal injuries this year, there’s also another way of looking at the data, which is to examine the fatal injury rate in terms of the number of fatalities per 100,000 workers employed. In these terms, the year-on-year trends from HSE show that agriculture continues to be one of the sectors with the worst fatal injury rate (alongside waste and recycling). Together, they both have a fatal injury rate about 18 times as high as the average across other industries.
Carrying out Thorough Examination and Testing of Lifting and Pressure Equipment during the coronavirus outbreak
The HSE has produced guidance to help industry during this period which can be found here and includes:
The law for Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER) and Pressure Systems Safety Regulations (PSSR) remain in place and businesses must continue to ensure that equipment is safe to use.
If duty holders, having worked with their inspection body, are unable to arrange a periodic inspection within the specified time period, they must take competent advice (e.g. from their inspection body) and apply a robust, risk based approach to decision-making about the continued operation of plant and machinery outside of the statutory regime, ensuring that the decision making process is documented.
Considerations may include:
RIDDOR – reporting coronavirus (COVID-19)
Details of when and how you should report coronavirus incidents under RIDDOR (the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013) are detailed below:
You must only make a report under RIDDOR, relating to coronavirus, when:
Visit the HSE website for further details on the above, along with examples.
Fire safety failures in over half of care homes audited in new Brigade report
Serious fire safety failures have been found in care homes across London by our Brigade inspectors.
There were 177 care homes visited to gauge the level of fire risk across the capital in a one-off series of in-depth inspections.
The Brigade’s findings included the following serious fire safety breaches:
One in three premises with inadequate or poorly maintained fire doors
Widespread confusion about fire evacuation strategies
Fire risk assessments being carried out by people without the proper skills and experience
Roofs being omitted from fire risk assessments (roof voids often increase the spread and severity of a fire)
Care home owners need to urgently review their fire risk assessments and ensure their staff knows how to safely evacuate their residents, especially those who are immobile.
“If you were placing your loved one into the care of others, you would expect them to be safe but for too many people, the very roof they are sleeping under could put them at risk.”
In 2017, two people died in a Cheshunt care home after a fire travelled through voids in the roof which allowed it to quickly engulf the entire building. Crews from Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue and London Fire Brigade found residents in many rooms, many too frail too move themselves to safety. Miraculously, 33 residents were rescued. Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) stated that “It’s the responsibility of those in charge of running care homes to ensure the right fire protection measures are in place in order to keep people safe.
Sentencing Guideline inflated fines for large organisations 15-fold.
The median fine for health and safety offences for large organisations increased almost 15-fold following the February 2016 arrival of the revised Sentencing Guideline for Health and Safety Offences, according to an impact assessment carried out by the Sentencing Council.
Its analysis of court fines levied in the 16 months prior to the Guideline, compared to the 16 month period after it took effect, saw the median fine increase from just £25,000 to £370,800.
For medium-sized organisations, there was a five-fold increase, with the median fine increasing from £20,000 to £100,000.
Average fines for micro and small organisations also increased, although the stated aim of the revised Guideline was to increase the financial penalties for larger organisations.
In this group, the median fine rose from £20,100 to £45,200.
The analysis looked at 161 pre-Guideline cases and 129 post-Guideline cases.
The increase in fines for smaller organisations was one unexpected finding of the impact assessment, according to the Sentencing Council, which was also surprised to find that fines for individuals, sentenced under Section 7 of the Health and Safety at Work Act, had also increased by an “unanticipated” amount.
Tougher sentencing in the pipeline for health and safety offences
On 3 November 2015, the Sentencing Council (the Council) published the guidelines on Health and Safety, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety and Hygiene offences.
The long awaited Guidelines were published alongside the Response to Consultation and come into force on 1 February 2016.
The Guidelines apply to companies or individuals (aged 18 and older) who are sentenced on or after 1 February 2016, regardless of the date of the offence.
The Guidelines set out a number of steps that the sentencing court will need to go through to establish the appropriate fine. Firstly, the court will need to determine the category of offence. This is based on two stages, the level of culpability and the level of harm. Secondly, starting points (which apply to all offenders, whether they have pleaded guilty or been convicted after trial) define the position within a category range from which to start calculating the provisional sentence. The court is required to focus on the organisation’s annual turnover or equivalent to reach a starting point for a fine. The court then consider further features of the offence or the offender that warrant adjustment of the sentence within the range, including aggravating and mitigating factors. Credit for a guilty plea is taken into consideration only after the appropriate sentence has been identified.
Responses to the consultation included whether linking fines to turnover was ‘too rigid and overly simplistic’ and would lead to firms of varying sizes receiving grossly different fines for similar incidents. The Council has, however, adopted this approach and stated: ‘We accept that using turnover to determine the size of a business is something of a blunt instrument but we believe the overall sentencing process in the proposed guideline gives sentencers the flexibility they need to ensure the interests of justice are served.’
Very large organisations
It was proposed that a proportionate multiplier be included in the Guidelines to clarify a suitable calculation when imposing fines for very large organisations (i.e. those with turnovers greater than £50 million). The Council decided not to include such a feature within the Guidelines as to do so could, due to the complexity of sentencing very large organisations, hinder sentencers and would conflict with the guidance to ‘consider the financial circumstances of the organisation in the round.’ This also maintains consistency with the approach in the environmental guidelines.
Instead, the Guidelines state: ‘Where an offending organisation’s turnover or equivalent very greatly exceeds the threshold for large organisations, it may be necessary to move outside the suggested range to achieve a proportionate sentence.’
How tough are the new proposed fines likely to be?
Under the Guidelines a large organisation that commits an offence with the greatest exposure to harm (for example, a fatal accident) and with high culpability will see a sentencing range of £4.8 million – £20 million with a starting point of £7.5 million. Large food operators that commit a food safety offence with a serious adverse effect on human health with high culpability will see a sentencing range of £500,000 – £3 million. Individuals that commit serious offences with high culpability can expect custodial sentences or serious fines where profit was a motivating factor in the commission of the offence.
Companies need to start taking this very seriously. The message in the Guidelines is that:
‘the fine must be sufficiently substantial to have a real economic impact which will bring home to both management and shareholders the need to comply with health and safety legislation.’