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From the CEO’s desk - December 2018

10 December 2018

Alan Murray reflects on the recent health and safety work statistics for Great Britain and looks to what learnings need to come from the figures.

At the end of October, the HSE published their Health and Safety at Work statistics for Great Britain and I would like to take the opportunity to outline those and reflect on where we have come from and indeed the future picture.

144 fatal injuries occurred while people were at work in the UK last year this is essentially the same figure as recent years.

The summary of the HSE report (the full report is available and can be read or downloaded at www.bsif.co.uk/news ) tells us that in HSE’s view too many workers are still being injured or made ill through their work identifying that 1.4 million workers were suffering from work related ill health and well over ½ a million workers suffered non - fatal work related injuries during 2017/18. This is from a working population in this country of approximately 32 million and in terms of effect on productivity for the economy nearly 31 million days of absence resulted. So, while we are constantly being reminded in the media that the UK productivity figure is a problem, so think what the impact would be if the days lost through injury and ill health were reduced! 

The primary impact of injury and ill health is felt by the individual and nobody should be injured or made ill by virtue of going to work but there are also important economic factors that should motivate the authorities to make significant improvements. The figure given in the report for the annual cost of new cases of work related ill health, excluding cases of long latency illness such as cancer, is a staggering £9.7 billion while the cost of work place injury is stated as £5.2 billion meaning a total of £15 billion and just by way of context or comparison the UK Defence budget is £35 billion so the cost of injury and ill health is equivalent to 43% of that!

It has always been the view of BSIF that good safety is synonymous with good business and that holds for companies and UK PLC. The HSE report highlights that there are no significant changes in the industries which are most likely to produce injuries such as Construction, Agriculture and Waste Management.

It is often stated that the UK currently has perhaps the best safety and health record among comparable western economies, but we must not lose sight of the significant changes in the UK’s industrial landscape. This then gives us the opportunity to look back to where we have come from.

30 years ago, 1988 there were over 700 Workplace Fatalities in the UK but this was heavily impacted when July 1988 there was the Piper Alpha disaster, which on its own, claimed the lives of 167 the worst workplace incident in the UK since 1934 

Of course in 1988 the UK “world of work” was a different place and we had industries such as Coal Mining – Shipbuilding and a sizeable Steel industry – all inherently dangerous and labour intensive and without Piper Alpha the number around 550. Compare that with the 144 fatalities in 2018 and we see that the workplace is clearly now safer. 

As you would now expect in 1988 accident levels were very high and crucially bringing the clock forward we now see many of the long term latency effects on workers health that are cited in the HSE report where, for example it quotes that 13,000 deaths occur each year which are believed to be as a result of past exposures at work primarily linked to chemicals or dust. 

Despite the working environment being “safer” today we still anticipate threats to the future and new hazards will doubtless emerge. Let’s hope that ignorance such as we saw with asbestos really is a thing of the past and that threats like silica and construction dust are controlled and that we are not creating new problems which will be the long term latency health issues of the future.

The HSE report and the chairman’s commentary states “Great Britain’s health and safety record is something that we should all be proud of, but there is still much to be done”.

We endorse that statement, but at the same time it is worth highlighting that the HSE – the regulator needs to drive the necessary continual improvements and it needs to be properly resourced to do so. 

Alan Murray is chief executive of the British Safety Industry Federation. For more information, visit www.bsif.co.uk