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December 2019

Pic: John MarshJohn Marsh, Chairperson

As 2019 comes to an end and we welcome in the new year I just hope that health and safety in 2020 is not subjected to more under funding and we see a Government willing to put an end to austerity and provide the HSE with the ability to recruit more inspectors and prosecute more employers for putting profit before employees health and safety.

In last month’s Chairs report I wrote about the publication of the HSE’s annual report and how we had seen the current governments contempt for workers health and safety result in an increase in work fatalities, injuries, work-related ill-health, whilst we have seen the number of convictions and fines for workplace safety offences have plummeted.

Last month I highlighted my concerns about how the statistics are compiled and how in my opinion they are flawed and do not provide a true account of how many people are killed or suffer major injuries whilst at work.

But another concern I have is that although they claim that there has been a marked decline in the number of working days lost to work-related illness and workplace injury, down from 30.7 million working days in 2017/18 to 28.2 million in 2018/19, I have always been sceptical about the way this figure is collated. I was not a fan when they decided to change RIDDOR and the extension from 3 to 7 days for the reporting of injuries to workers who could no longer carryout their normal duties or are away from work.

For me it was an excuse for the Government and employers to manipulate the figures, in other words cooking the books. It gave the Government the opportunity to declare what a good job the HSE was doing by reducing the number of workplace deaths, injuries and cases of ill-health whilst cutting funding for the organisation but it also gave the employers the opportunity to manipulate their accident statistics as they now had the ability to bring people back into work on restricted duties or alternative roles.

Being cynical again, are the Government and the HSE so naïve not to recognise that some employers in their pursuit for a utopian health and safety zero accident workplace, fail to provide a true reflection of their safety culture.

There are possibly very few workplaces if any, who can honestly say that they have a safety culture where every manager or worker really believes that their company’s main priority is health and safety. When you have health and safety as part of the measures used to determine a manager’s bonus at the end of the year, don’t be surprised if you hear of examples of them manipulating their accident stats just so that they don’t lose their bonus.

As for the workers, what about those individuals who have an accident at work or have a near miss and fail to report it for the fear of losing their jobs.

If organisations are truly committed to changing the safety culture within their organisations and protecting the health and wellbeing of their employees and encourage all of them to report all incidents and near misses, where culture is about learning rather than trying to apportion blame, only then can you start to work towards changing safety behaviours and publishing accident statistics that represent a true reflection of health and safety in Great Britain.

Moving away from the dystopian picture that the current HSE annual report paints and the funding cuts endured by the HSE over the years, on a brighter outlook the government has said that it intends to create a new Building Safety Regulator possibly in the wake of the Grenfell disaster. The government indicated the new regulator will oversee the design and management of buildings, with a strong focus on policing the new regime for higher risk buildings. It said the regulator will have the power to take quick and effective action, imposing heavy fines, when designers and contractors fail to comply.

Communities secretary Robert Jenrick said: “I am grateful that Dame Judith has agreed to advise my department on the new Building Safety Regulator. Her expertise will be essential to forming a strong Regulator with teeth to ensure all residents are safe, and feel safe, in their homes both now and in the future.”

Well me being cynical again, isn’t that the remit of the HSE, aren’t they supposed to be doing something along those lines by ensuring that workers are safe and feel safe in their workplaces, or as funding cuts resulted in them losing some of their teeth.

Until next time, stay safe.

You can download the HSE statistics from the E-Library here

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