Despite the number of work-related injuries in the UK reaching its lowest level in a decade, with fatal and non-fatal injuries down by 45% and 51% respectively, there is an increasing amount of companies being found guilty of breaching health and safety rules and regulations, which are governed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
On 1st February 2016, HSE introduced new sentencing guidelines, which included tougher penalties for companies found in breach of legislation, such as hefty fines and/or up to two years’ imprisonment. Since the new guidelines have been introduced, the value of fines collected has increased by 80%, jumping from £38.8 million in 2015/16 to £69.9 million in 2016/17.
What’s preventing businesses from committing to health and safety?
A recent survey carried out by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) revealed that a quarter of businesses in the UK see the complexity of legal obligations as a major difficulty when addressing health and safety issues. Other issues include the required paperwork being too difficult (17%), lack of resources – either staff or time (19%), lack of money (15%) and lack of expertise/specialist support (10%).
Competency is the most vital skill in managing health and safety in the workplace, and every level of an organisation should be involved. Directors, line managers and workers should receive training to be made more aware of risks and understand what action needs to be taken when a hazard arises.
Without regular risk assessments, a seemingly safe workplace can hide serious health and safety risks likely to cause harm to employees, visitors or members of the public. In reality, it may be impractical to prevent every imaginable hazard, but no-one wants to think they could have done more if an accident were to take place.
Uncovering dangers in the workplace
Many hazards are easy to identify and a simple risk assessment would help to detect these. However, without a system of regular reviews in place and access to health and safety information, many hazards go unnoticed until they cause an accident. Some of the hazards that can get overlooked include:
Noisy work environments
People are often unaware of their workplace’s background noise levels, which can increase their baseline stress levels. Moreover, continuous exposure to loud noises or large sudden sounds can result in damage to hearing. Risk assessments must take place to ensure the health and safety of employees who are exposed to noise.
When possible, extended periods of work in front of windowless doors should be avoided. If work needs to take place by one, the door should be propped open securely or a sign installed to make people aware that work is being carried out on the other side of it.
Wearing the correct clothing in the workplace, including footwear, is often an overlooked hazard. Employers should make staff aware of the type of footwear that they need, whether it’s close-toed shoes with effective grip or steel-capped boots.
Working overtime can cause tiredness and workplace fatigue, which can result in staff making mistakes that can do harm to themselves or other people. Employees have the right to 11 hours of rest between working days.
What can employers and employees do to improve health and safety in the workplace?
Employers are legally obliged to adhere to rules and regulations laid out by the HSE. All UK employers must carry out risk assessments to identify and prevent potential hazards and accidents, ensuring they have strict working guidelines in place to deal with accidents should they happen.
To keep staff safe, and to avoid breaching workplace regulations, employers should:
- Take appropriate action when a hazard arises
- Inspect personal protective equipment (PPE) regularly to ensure it meets HSE standards
- Display posters in areas where PPE is required
- Provide all staff with health and safety training
While employers are legally responsible for employees’ health and safety, there are also steps that employees can take to reduce the chances of an accident in the workplace. These include:
- Reporting any hazards to their line manager immediately
- Familiarising themselves with any potential hazards before beginning a task
- Following any instructions to wear PPE while in certain areas or carrying out certain tasks
- Ensuring they are aware of the business’s health and safety processes and procedures
- Making sure any PPE is clean and damage-free, and does not interfere with their movements or breathing
Health and safety in the workplace should always be a concern for both employers and employees. However, many businesses are not doing everything they can to reduce the risk of accidents – and the results could prove costly. For some companies, fines issued could be the difference between staying in business or facing bankruptcy. Although these penalties may seem tough, they are in place to urge companies to assess their current health and safety procedures and commit to improving standards further.
Richard is a Partner at YouClaim, which is a personal injury specialists based in Manchester. The company has been providing legal advice to those who have been injured in a non-fault accident, no matter what the circumstances, for over 10 years.