It’s 50 years since the publication of a landmark report on occupational safety and health (OSH) which overhauled the UK’s fragmented and overly prescriptive OSH regime and led to the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA) and the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
The report, Safety and health at work; report of the (Robens) committee 1970-1972, was seeking better, more uniform standards and recommended a more flexible system that emphasized ‘self-regulation’ and extending OSH protections to a greater number of workers, and for the first time, the public.
The resulting HSWA promoted the idea of health and safety as integral to good management, and to introduce codes of practice and general duties to reduce risks. It meant asking those responsible for managing risks to identify them and set out how they would manage them effectively and to do so a common approach was needed.
The Lord Robens committee’s report has stood the test of time – it moved the emphasis from looking for breaches of regulatory codes to assessing risk and managing those risks out. Steve Wallace is the MD of Liverpool-based Courtley Health and Safety which operates nationally and has more than 180 businesses on its books.
He says that being a health and safety professional means highlighting methodically the hazards, the likelihood of something bad occurring and the severity of the consequences: “Places of work need to follow legislative compliance but when we visit a workplace it is always with a view to helping not judging.
“This is simply about making sure that workers are being looked after and that if accidents happen they are not repeated. The trick is to do it in a way which matters and is relevant to each individual business. Health, safety and wellbeing is, after all, always about the person.”
As such, he says, an important mantra for all organisations should be: “Good Health and Safety is good business. Looking after staff improves quality, productivity and morale and will improve balance sheets and, as such, health and safety should never be a tagged-on afterthought.” Ultimately, therefore, health and safety comes down to good leadership, which is what the Robens committee’s report aimed to promote.
For example, a top end restaurant might have thousands of ingredients but all of them are not used for every dish because each is different. Similarly, every company can have a different health and safety requirement – everything depends on what is needed to complete a job safely and keep people safe.
And despite stories in the media from big issues like Grenfell to smaller, but no less important ones, like falling from a ladder, we are, as a society, excellent at safety.
HSE’s most recent report of December 2021 makes interesting reading, even if some of the ‘Eurostats’ are a number of years old. It states: “The UK consistently has one of the lowest rates of fatal injury across Europe; in 2018 the standardised rate was 0.61 per 100,000 employees.
“Compared to other large European economies, the 2018 UK fatal injury rate was a similar order as Germany (0.55 per 100,000 employees) and lower than France (3.07 per 100,000 employees), Italy (1.04 per 100,000 employees) and Spain (1.49 per 100,000 employees).”
Fatal injuries to workers for 12 months up to July 2021 numbered 142 in the UK showing a generally downward trend which has been broadly flat in recent years.
Meanwhile non-fatal injuries reported by employers in 2020/21 numbered a little over 51,000, while 441,000 workers sustained a non-fatal injury according to self-reports from the Labour Force Survey in 2020/21. It’s estimated by the HSE that some 38 million working days were lost to work-related ill health and non-fatal workplace injuries in 2019/20 (latest figures).
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So, avoid the first aid box and sign up to one of our courses today.