THIS MONTH the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will publish its latest 2019/20 Business Plan, detailing how upcoming annual priorities will support its mission ‘to prevent death, injury and ill health in Great Britain’s workplaces’.
In anticipation of the plan’s publication, Heightsafe is calling for a renewed focus on tackling the number of preventable deaths and injuries as a result of working at height. From 2013-18 falls from height accounted for the majority of fatal injuries to workers – at an average of 37 deaths every year. It is a major killer of workers in construction and agriculture.
Last month, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG)’s report on Working at Height, put forward recommendations to highlight the risks, regulations and best-practices to a variety of industries, demonstrating the need to improve knowledge and preventative action across the UK workforce.
In response, Heightsafe is calling for a number of measures to be considered, to help organisations prevent falls from height:
- Make Work at Height equipment a legal requirement on all new buildings and redevelopment projects – with a minimum standard set in building regulations
- RIDDOR statistics to be available and easily accessible online for businesses in high-risk industries such as construction, and agriculture, alongside a certification scheme from RIDDOR, providing proof of an organisation’s accident statistics
- HSE to continually monitor and report on the Health and Safety performance of contractors in high-risk industries, scoring these contractors against set metrics to aid in a proactive approach, rather than reactive in implementing Working at Height safety measures
- Tax relief for businesses actively investing in Work at Height equipment to protect their personnel, similar to the Land Remediation Relief currently available in the asbestos industry
Back to basics can combat avoidable deaths
In the HSE’s 2018/19 plan, published in March 2018, its priorities under the Health and Work programme gave focus to reducing levels of occupational lung disease, musculoskeletal disorders, and work-related stress. Despite falls from height accounting for the highest number of fatal injuries in the workplace, no mention was made of tackling this issue in last year’s plan.
“We very much applaud and support HSE’s focus on tackling serious issues of lung and musculoskeletal diseases and stress. However, we are concerned that in the drive to solve these complex issues the HSE may be losing strategic focus on making sure the basics are done right,” said Ken Diable, Managing Director at Heightsafe.
“Falls from height account for the majority of fatal accidents at work. These deaths are, for the most part entirely preventable which makes these incidents completely unacceptable. In our ten years in the Health and Safety industry, despite the various fall protection equipment available to prevent these deaths, there is still a lack of education and understanding of how dangerous working at height can be,” Diable added.
Major killer in key sectors
The fatal injury rate in construction (1.64 per 100k workers) is around four times the all-industry rate. From 2013-18, 47% of deaths in the construction industry were as a result of a fall from height. In the same period, falls from height were also the third most common cause of deaths in the agricultural sector. Over the last 35 years, this sector has demonstrated a fatal injury rate of around 20 times the average.
Both construction and agriculture are sectors dominated by SME organisations, which the HSE says are hard to reach with appropriate messaging around safe working.
“Workers in construction and agriculture are risking their lives just by going to work, which is completely unacceptable,” commented Diable. “More focus must be made on helping employers in these sectors provide safe working environments, and educating workers on good practice. Reaching these audiences is notoriously tough, and that’s where HSE could work more closely with suppliers, charities and unions to come up with creative solutions.”
Funding cuts leave basics floundering
As detailed in its Business Plan 2016/17, in 2019/20 HSE will receive £100m less in funding from central government. That is a reduction in funding of 46% for HSE since 2009. It reports it will maintain budgets for inspection, investigation and enforcement.
“My fear is that with continued budgetary cuts for HSE, focus on communicating the basics of proactive safe working will lessen even further. While it will continue to investigate and enforce, these actions are not preventative – it’s shutting the door once the horse has bolted. My fear is that the preventative campaigns the HSE has previously invested in will wither further. Furthermore, stretched employers, particularly these SMEs in high risk industries will forget that doing the basics right saves lives,” concluded Diable.