Continued Inspector attention

The HSE’s Business Plan for 2019/20 highlights specific priorities for health and safety inspectors in 2019-2020. For one thing, local authority safety inspectors goal remains to focus on workplace transport safety to reduce the associated accident statistics.

Then there is their continued emphasis on occupational ill health through the Health and Work programme, focusing on musculoskeletal disorders and mental health issues, such as work-related stress.

Musculoskeletal disorders

Musculoskeletal disorders are conditions that can affect your muscles, bones, and joints. Manual handling injuries form part of a wider group of Musculoskeletal Disorders which account for more than one-third of all work-related injury. Common injuries include pulling a muscle to damaging tissue, trapping a nerve, crushing vertebrae or causing a hernia. Most injuries are to the back, but hands, arms, and feet are also vulnerable to fractures and lacerations. Many of these injuries could be prevented if people followed correct manual handling techniques.

Reducing the Risk:

  • Avoid manual handling by use of a forklift or pallet truck where practicable.
  • Use trolleys, rather than carrying, and make sure these are maintained in full working order.
  • Share the load – heavy or bulky items may require a two-man lift.
  • Plan the lift and provide a clear path.
  • Break the load down into smaller parts.
  • Train employees in correct lifting and handling techniques.
  • Consider storage height of items to be lifted – Lifting below knee height or above shoulder height puts increased strain on the spine.
  • Provide suitable PPE such as steel toe capped boots and gloves (but ensure these don’t restrict movement).

Work-related stress

Over the years mental health has not had the priority awarded to physical health. The government now want to increase the focus on mental health and work-related stress.  In order to keep your workplace and staff healthy, in line with an employer’s duty of care, you should keep an eye out for signs of stress:

  • Sudden changes in behavior.
  • Irritability or frequent mood swings.
  • Extreme indecisiveness.
  • Unusually poor time keeping.
  • Lack of self-confidence.
  • Tearfulness.

When signs are spotted, it is important to take steps to be supportive and put in place measures to help reduce these stress levels as soon as possible. Such measures may include:

  • Clearly defining job roles and responsibilities.
  • Appointing staff in job roles suitable to their training and experience.
  • Ensuring management are friendly and approachable – an ‘open door policy’ for staff to report concerns.
  • Actions taken to prevent/control harassment or bullying within the workplace.
  • Ensuring full holiday entitlement is taken.
  • Monitoring sickness absence.
Forklift trucks and seatbelts

Forklift trucks are involved in around 8,000 accidents a year and a quarter of all workplace incidents, with one worker dying as a result around every six weeks.  Yet many of these life-changing events could be avoided if simple measures such as the use of seatbelts and proper training had been implemented.

Seatbelts prevent the driver from being thrown from the truck and crushed if it overturns – a common situation in forklift accidents. So regulators are getting tough on employers who fail to implement a compulsory seatbelt policy, even though it is not explicitly required in law. This means creating a culture of seatbelt use through training and habit.

We recommend:

  • Using recent incidents to bring the safety message home through toolbox talks.
  • Leading from the top by issuing safety memos to introduce the change.
Workplace transport: Preventing collisions

HSE’s focus on accident prevention means that workplace transport will continue to be an issue for many business in the UK – and their drivers. Common accidents, such as pedestrians being knocked down or crushed by moving vehicles/forklifts and workers falling or being struck during loading or unloading, can usually be avoided with good risk awareness, appropriate training and the enforcement of best practice, such as:

  • Designing routes that keep pedestrians, especially customers, and vehicles/forklifts apart
  • Operating on-site speed limits
  • Ensuring outside areas are well lit, and vehicles are properly maintained
  • Providing separate customer parking
  • Fitting reversing warnings on forklifts and fleet vehicles
  • Providing training for loading/unloading
Know your personal protective equipment

In April 2018, updated regulations for personal protective equipment (PPE) came into force – which means that most businesses will need to check that items they use themselves, as well as those they sell, comply. A word of warning: in 2013, builders’ merchant Jewson was fined £14,000 for selling hard hats that failed to meet safety standards.

Brexit progress

The UK government has issued draft regulations, The Health and Safety (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018, for tweaks to safety and health regulations to ensure they still function as intended after the country exits the European Union. 

A limited amount of legislation, particularly that relating to major accident hazards, import of substances hazardous to health and offshore installations, requires some tweaks, but the key safety legislation relevant to your industry is likely to continue to function without amendment. For one thing, our primary legislation, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, was implemented before we joined the EU. For another, there seems to be little appetite to tamper with what has proved a successful law – particularly when there is so much other legislation to be scrutinised and amended.

Free movement is still an unresolved issue, but we are already seeing migrant numbers dropping considerably, particularly from the EU – so recruitment could be a problem in 2018/19 and all the expense that entails.

Getting tough with Employers

The new manslaughter guidelines, which will come into force on 1 November, mark the first time the Sentencing Council has provided instructions to courts on how to deal with offenders convicted of gross negligence manslaughter

An individual’s culpability would be put at the highest level for a longstanding and serious disregard for the safety of employees, motivated by financial gain (or avoidance of cost), warranting a prison sentence between ten and 18 years. Evidence that the negligent conduct persisted for a long period will result in a jail sentence between six and 12 years under the new guidelines. If the offender’s culpability is deemed to be a lapse in otherwise satisfactory standards of care, the jail term will be in the range of one to four years.

All employers should brace themselves for a spate of tough jail sentences as these guidelines are intended to send a strong message to directors and senior managers who neglect safety to save money!