The past 12 months have brought safety into razor-sharp focus for every UK business. Whether you ramped up operations to keep the country running or redesigned processes to support a remote workforce, the coronavirus pandemic delivered a swift lesson in the importance of a solid H&S strategy. 

Even before the COVID-19 outbreak forced firms to strengthen compliance standards, occupational safety issues had reached critical levels. New 2019/2020 statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reveal 65,427 non-fatal employee injuries, 38.8 million working days lost due to work-related ill health and 828,000 workers suffering from job-linked stress, depression or anxiety.    

And while the HSE summary showed a drop in cases prosecuted, notices issued and the average fine value during the reporting period, companies still racked up £35.8 million in penalties – and sustained an overall annual loss of £16.2 billion due to work-related injury and new cases of ill health during 2018/19. 

Without doubt, the pandemic has prioritised employee mental and physical health – but will 2021 present a watershed moment for workplace safety? We set out your compliance agenda for the coming year. 

Continued COVID-19 compliance

Still relying on safety measures from the first lockdown? The challenge for 2021 is keeping current with evolving regulations – and ensuring staff stay fully trained. To protect clients, visitors and employees, frequently review risk assessments and control measures in line with sector and regional updates and continually upskill your team to capably implement the changes. Look to our COVID-19 pages for the latest guidance, employer advice and resources. 

New standards for service industries 

Service industries endured a punishing stop-start pattern during 2020, so don’t risk further productivity hits, staff absence or reputational damage because of poor COVID-19 practices. Use downtime to step up existing controls, educate workers on new safety procedures and ensure interim services – such as online, takeaway or click and collect offerings – operate within prescribed guidelines. A H&S specialist can help you build a flexible compliance plan that works through closure and reopening and back to business as usual.  

Heightened hygiene and social distancing practices 

Whatever your industry, your strongest lines of COVID-19 defence remain strict hygiene and social distancing measures among staff, customers and contractors. Conduct a site-by-site review to locate lax cleaning routines, newly emerged transmission risks or lapses in the two-metre rule. Redouble your efforts with visible social distancing reminders, additional sanitising stations in high traffic areas and new processes that weave good hygiene into everyday work duties. 

A spotlight on safety and wellness training  

Your compliance strategy can’t succeed without a confident, competent team to see it through – so make 2021 the year you get serious about safety training. As well as teaching healthy working habits and general injury prevention, your programme should include current, comprehensive COVID-19 hazard training for both onsite and homeworkers. And with the pandemic taking a marked toll on employee mental health (on top of the 347,000 new cases of job-related stress and depression already reported in 2019/20), your education provision should also support worker wellbeing.  

Follow up is fundamental to any training programme, so show long-term focus with regular huddles (virtual or in person), individual catch ups and supplementary learning opportunities. An online safety management tool like Safety Cloud offers a streamlined solution, providing tailored training modules, competency assessments and real-time performance tracking to ensure all staff stay up to date with course requirements. 

Post-Brexit safety protocols

As the EU transition period closes on 31 December 2020, companies must fall in line with a raft of new HSE rules, regulating everything from chemicals and explosives to equipment and machinery. Although most H&S basics – such as appointing a competent person and undertaking regular risk assessments – will stay largely the same, businesses who operate across borders will now need to adhere to two, possibly divergent, safety frameworks – and invest time and resources to remain compliant within both. 

Personal prosecution of directors 

While personal conviction numbers have dropped year-on-year, the threat of individual business owners and directors being held accountable – through prosecution and disqualification – for top-level safety breaches should not be ignored. According to the HSE’s Enforcement Statistics in Great Britain, 2020, convictions secured by the HSE or Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) during 2019/20 comprised a combination of fines (66%), suspended sentences (14%), community sentences (9%), immediate custody (8%) and other sentence types (4%). 

Commitment to compliance – stretching from frontline staff to the C-suite – has never been more important, and the COVID-19 crisis has arguably created ideal conditions to put best practice into play. With workplace safety awareness at peak levels following the pandemic, smart businesses should make the most of the momentum.  

Whatever your goals for the coming year, Southalls can provide ongoing health and safety consultancy and specialist standalone services to help you reduce risk, protect your team and stay consistently – and cost effectively – compliant.