Jan 16, 2013

Sectors uninspected by HSE has most fatalities

Losing the security of proactive inspections in unaccountable industry

According to research by Professor Rory O’Neill, a researcher at the University of Stirling, the majority of workplace deaths occur in industry sectors officially categorised by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as exempt from unannounced health and safety inspections. 

The research analysed more than 20 HSE reports to map fatality statistics against a list of sectors excluded from proactive inspections by the HSE and found that there are at least 37 sectors that do not have industry specific inspectors and are therefore not receiving HSE visits or inspections. 

These sectors include quarries, plastics, electricity generation and supply, agriculture, and other industries acknowledged by the HSE to be of ‘higher risk’. 

Interestingly the National Health Service (NHS) is one of those industries not subject to HSE scrutiny, despite being an employer of about 1.4 million health workers. These workers can be exposed to just as many of the safety risks encountered in heavy industry, including all manner of potentially terminal health risks.

Professor O’Neill argues that the policy which was first laid out nearly two years ago, in the Government’s strategy, ‘Good health and safety, good for everyone’ is driven not by evidence but by an ideology of deregulation and that the HSE has failed to provide a health and safety case for exemption of sometimes deadly industries from official policing. 

The research showed that between 1 April 2011 and 31 October 2012, there were 258 fatalities in HSE-enforced workplaces – with 137 occurring in sectors exempt from proactive inspections. In sectors still subject to unannounced inspections, there were 104 deaths. The remaining deaths occurred in sectors where the enforcement approach is unclear. The research also found that reactive inspections following reported injuries have also dropped by 40 per cent in five years. 

What one can see from these findings is that the current Government strategy is making life easier for irresponsible businesses to get away with non-compliance and potentially placing their employees at additional, unnecessary risk. 

The Government is clear that lower-risk businesses that are managing their risks effectively should not be subject to unannounced, proactive inspections. But where poor performance is suspected and workers or the public are being put at risk, HSE inspections will be carried out. This approach is being taken to reduce the burden on small businesses with regard to meeting their responsibilities.

In 2006/07, 2841 fatal or major injuries were investigated in HSE-enforced workplaces; this represents 8.5 percent of the 33,300 reported. By 2010/11, the number had risen to 36,062, with only 1844 or 5.1 percent being investigated. 

These findings do bring forward points worthy of debate and highlight the need to question Government strategy in relation to health and safety policy, strategy and enforcement. One would think that any saving of resources by easing off on smaller and low-risk business that the HSE would be inclined to devote more of their resources to policing more of the higher risk industries - where there are still an unacceptably high rate of injuries and deaths.


Paul Venter

Health and Safety Consultant

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