Top 5 Reasons Why UK Manufacturers MUST Comply With Safety Regulations

Top 5 Reasons Why UK Manufacturers MUST Comply With Safety Regulations

Andy Hall

The manufacturing sector is made up of a range of diverse industries with an estimated 3m workers. The development of new and advanced manufacturing methods, such as collaborative robots, 3D printing, and greater automation, provide both a challenge and an opportunity for the sector.

On average, 27 workers are killed each year in this sector, accounting for almost 20% of all workplace fatalities. The main causes being struck by objects, fall from height and contact with machinery. There was also an annual average of more than 3,100 reports of major injuries and about 4,100 reports of injuries that kept workers away from work for seven days or more.

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Many manufacturing workers also suffer ill health from workplace exposures. It is estimated that each year an average of 33,000 workers suffer from illness caused or made worse by their current or most recent job in manufacturing. Known health issues across the sector include work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), stress and lung disease.

Great Britain is one of the safest and healthiest places in the world to work. However, the manufacturing sector has a mixed health and safety record and more improvements need to be made. A rapidly changing world creates new challenges and opportunities for businesses to improve productivity and innovation, alongside developing safer and healthier workplaces and reduce the £14 billion impact of work-related injuries and ill health.

1. The HSE 3-5 year plan to Focus on manufacturers

Looking to the next 3-5 years, the HSE will be focusing their resources on manufacturing alongside agriculture, construction, logistics and transport, public services, and waste and recycling. These are sectors where they believe the health and safety challenges are greatest and where their interventions will have the greatest impact.

The manufacturing sector covers a diverse range of industries, from small-scale motor vehicle repair, woodworking and metal fabrication, paper and plastic manufacture, mineral products, food and drinks production to car manufacture, aerospace, and shipbuilding. This sector is very much dominated by SMEs.

The HSE will be working towards achieving improvements in the following areas in particular:

  • Reducing the cases of occupational lung disease, MSDs, and work-related stress.
  • Reducing serious and fatal incidents, particularly those caused by heavy loads, maintenance and catastrophic events.

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2. Drastic fine increases for manufacturers

Since the publication of health and safety sentencing guidelines in February 2016, there has been a marked increase in the levels of penalties levied against defendants in the manufacturing industry. Although not our highest risk industry, manufacturing has been the most harshly punished by the Guidelines.

Cases prosecuted in this sector yielded some headline fines:

  • Cristal Pigment: £3m
  • Warburtons: £2m
  • Tata Steel: £1.98m (reduced on appeal)
  • Parker Hannifin Manufacturing: £1m
  • Watling Tyre Services: £1m

The total sum collected in fines from 1st February 2016 to 31st January 2017 was an enormous £22,781,021.23 with an average fine standing at £157,110.49. In the comparable previous year (1st February 2015 to 31st January 2016), the total sum collected in fines was £11,421,755.56. These figures reveal that the total sum collected has doubled when compared to the previous year - making alarming reading!

3. Plans for longer jail sentences for directors

Further to the ‘new’ health and safety sentencing guidelines that came into force in February 2016, the sentencing council have now consulted on a proposal for the sentencing of offenders convicted of manslaughter in England and Wales.

They propose to get tough – with managers and company directors facing longer jail terms where convicted of gross negligence manslaughter with disregard for employee safety to save money.

In 2014 the average sentence length for manslaughter by gross negligence was 4 years as opposed to 8 years and 6 months for unlawful act manslaughter and 10 years for manslaughter by reason of loss of control. The Council intends to bring jail terms for gross negligence manslaughter in line with other types of manslaughter to reflect the seriousness of loss of human life.

Consultation on the proposal is now complete and awaiting publication of the final guideline to be used by the crown court.

4.Risk management and business performance go hand in hand

Improved understanding and management of risk affecting manufacturers will lead to better performance and competitive advantage. Effectively, safety ‘threats’ to the business are identified and removed.

With technology and particularly machines playing such a huge part in the industry, the time is ripe for a review of machinery safety across manufacturing operations. From guarding to risk assessment and systems of work, the time and money invested in these reviews could not be better spent. As the sector continues to push the boundaries when it comes to automation, employers must take care to ensure that in removing one health and safety risk, they do not introduce others.

Undertaking regular proactive safety audits is important to highlight weaknesses in current systems and where improvements could be made. While many business owners focus their efforts on managing the hazards that pose physical safety risks to their staff, the occupational health risks should not be overlooked.

Health and safety law limits an employer’s risk management responsibility to what is ‘reasonably practicable’. Therefore, employers need to be aware of all technically possible measures to protect staff with the only caveat being that the cost of implementing the measures is not grossly disproportionate to the risk. This is where an experienced health and safety consultancy can add value - guiding safety investment in the right areas of risk management relevant to the manufacturing sector.

5.The hidden cost of failing to comply

Failing to consider safety as an important part of the wider business strategy in the manufacturing sector has further commercial implications beyond the obvious court cases and FFI fines: The cost of sickness absence, disruption to production, damage to plant or equipment, civil claim, insurance premium increases, further staff training or recruitment costs, reputational damage and cancelled contracts. These ‘hidden costs’ are known as the iceberg effect and should not be underestimated.

Ensuring health and safety is central to the company's risk management strategy can help to limit these costs and leads to a safer, healthier and more productive workforce – and ultimately a more competitive organisation.

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