Health and Safety – Looking Back At 2019 and What To Expect In 2020

Health and Safety – Looking Back At 2019 and What To Expect In 2020

John Southall

A review of 2019 reveals some truly startling H&S statistics. 144 people killed at work. 71,000 reported employee injuries. 30.7 million working days lost at a cost of £15,000 billion to British business

With £72.6 million levied in prosecution fines for safety offences in England and Scotland, the past 12 months highlight how significantly companies are falling short on health and safety, putting the lives of personnel and the public at risk. 

Will 2020 mark a much-needed turning point? The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has shared key priorities for the coming year, providing a clear compliance blueprint for UK bosses. We encourage employers to aim for everyday excellence in their general H&S activities, while stepping up safety practices across these first-line focus areas. 

Going the extra mile could save you considerable money in HSE fees. In addition to carrying out their routine inspection regime, the organisation is required to investigate accidents and reported health and safety concerns – and can charge you liberally for their labour. While HSE rates remain under review, the regulator intends to recover full costs where a breach is identified, so we predict the price of poor practice will only increase.   

Protect yourself with an inside look at the safety topics, trends and target points that will define the new decade. 

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The HSE’s ‘Health at Work’ programme 

With 1.4 million employees suffering job-linked illnesses, ready yourself in 2020 for comprehensive HSE inspections that support their ‘Health at Work’ programme, an ongoing initiative tackling the three major causes of work-related health issues. 

  • Stress, depression and anxiety are the most commonly reported sources of work-related ill health in Great Britain. More than 770,000 employees visited the HSE’s stress microsite in 2019, indicating an urgent need for proactive, company-led risk assessments and preventative mental health support. Visit the HSE website for useful stress management tools and resources for SMEs.  
  • Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) continue to be a feature of HSE inspections, particularly in the manufacturing sector where repetitive tasks and handling of heavy loads put workers at increased risk. 
  • Occupational respiratory disease is estimated to result in approximately 12,000 deaths per year from job-related lung disease and cancer, so reducing exposure to carcinogens and asthmagens remains a top priority for the year ahead. Businesses of marked interest will include woodworking companies (linked to occupational asthma and sino-nasal cancers from wood dust exposure), bakeries (a source of asthmagens from flour dust) and fabricated metal firms (for carcinogens and asthmagens from welding fumes and metal working fluids). 
Sectors in the HSE hot seat

While a measurable commitment to compliance is expected across all industries, some sectors will be subject to heightened HSE scrutiny. 

  • Waste and recycling. Following a series of serious safety breaches, inspections will continue to target maintenance activities, safe isolation practices and the management of health risks associated with bioaerosol exposure. 
  • Agriculture. Audits will zero in on the hazards of livestock handling.  
  • Fairgrounds. Checks and maintenance of fixed and travelling rides and inflatables will be top priorities.  
  • Construction. In addition to MSD dangers, the HSE will closely examine SMEs carrying out refurbishment work, with a critical eye on asbestos and dust control exposure.
  • Welding. In January and February 2020, the HSE will proactively visit welders to assess the risk of welding fumes. It’s currently a H&S hot topic, so prepare yourself with toolbox talks, the provision of internal local exhaust ventilation (LEV) and external respiratory protective equipment (RPE), plus a full review and update of risk assessments and health surveillance.
COSHH - Control of Substances Hazardous to Health

With HSE inspections increasingly addressing broader health issues, rather than single safety violations, COSHH assessments and hierarchies of control have taken on new importance. 

Employers are being asked to evidence elimination or substitution options in place of the continued use of hazardous substances – and being served fees for intervention (FFIs) if they come up short on viable solutions. 

We’d recommend building a hierarchy of control into your COSHH assessment reviews, citing, for example, ‘We last reviewed alternative products in 2019 and no other suitable measures were available. We have reviewed PPE and, rather than using masks, have installed LEV’.  

Another important COSHH consideration is workplace exposure limits (WEL). While companies often view these limits as targets to work towards, the HSE considers them the minimum standard. Be ready to demonstrate how the steps you’re taking to operate below the WEL and reduce limits as far as is reasonably practicable.

Hand-arm vibration (HAV)

Hand-arm vibration (HAV), brought on by the use of handheld power tools, is directly linked to a range of debilitating disorders of the blood vessels, nerves and joints. At the end of 2019, the HSE launched a online calculator to help organisations estimate and record employee exposure to HAVs, and compare them to accepted levels as part of a HAV risk assessment.

The HSE guidance book ‘L140 Hand-arm Vibration has also been revised to keep up with legislative changes, experience and technical advances.  

Managing radiation in senior schools

Designed to support practical secondary school work involving radioactive substances, the HSE’s ‘L93 Managing Ionising Radiations and Radioactive Substances in Schools and Colleges November 2019’ provides expert instruction on safe handling, use and storage. The advice aims to define good practice and is an essential guide for schools in meeting the Ionising Radiation Regulations 2017.


The HSE continues to work with the government to prepare for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. Key concerns are the continued operability of the chemicals regime and the creation of an effective regulatory framework for the supply and use of chemicals. 

Fire safety fines – the ‘Grenfell Effect’

According to research from leading solicitor Warren Spencer, average fines for fire safety breaches have increased 35% since the 2017 Grenfell Tower tragedy – from £20,375 to £27,519. In a review of 200 cases brought under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, Spencer also found that the most enforced section of the regulations covered offences related to emergency exits and routes. Click here for Southalls top tips on productive fire safety risk assessments. 

Rising retirement age

Since December 2018, the State Pension age for men and women has gradually risen and will reach 66 by October 2020. It’s likely that your team members will retire later and you’ll encounter older candidates as part of your hiring process. 

There are no specific additional health and safety responsibilities related to mature employees, but you should consider the daily duties of your older staff as part of your regular risk assessments. While the HSE advises that ‘…older workers may experience more slips, trips and falls than younger workers, and recovery following an injury may take longer’, your business could benefit from their experience, sound judgment and commitment. Follow the HSE’s advice on working with older people and consult with staff of all ages to ensure your H&S measures suit every member of your team. 

The Fourth Industrial Revolution 

An ageing workforce is not the only radical change shaping the future of UK business. Disruptive technology and evolving employment models are fuelling the so-called ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ – a new era built on game-changing innovations such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics. 

The revolution, however, brings new risks. As automation increases, computers and machines will replace employees across a vast spectrum of roles – especially low skill, low pay manufacturing jobs – and become a prominent feature of our workplaces. 

The concept isn’t new, but today’s robots generally operate at a safe distance from humans, often separated by space, cages, light guards or pressure guards. Problems can arise when individuals work in close proximity to robots during set-up, programming, testing and repair or where employees take risks and enter ‘danger zones’. The next generation of intelligent, free-roaming automatons ramp up the risk of human contact even further. 

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Personal prosecution of directors 

Individual business owners and directors – rather than the organisations they lead – continue to be held personally accountable for health and safety infringements. According to law firm RadcliffesLeBrasseur, 40 directors were successfully prosecuted in 2017 and six were convicted of corporate manslaughter, with 17 receiving an immediate custodial sentence for an average of 21 months.

The trend is set to carry on and should be a wake-up call for executives who underplay the importance of company-wide compliance. Investment in health and safety resource, honest two-way communication and a lead-by-example safety ethos should be fundamental features of the 2020 corporate agenda. 

Managing safety in the cloud

The new year brings new opportunities to succeed at safety. In times of rapid change, cloud technology can be a valuable tool in centralising H&S activities, streamlining processes and placing key safety documents and data within immediate reach.

Safety CloudSouthalls exclusive H&S management software – helps you keep pace with an evolving work environment and take a proactive approach to compliance across your entire company.  

Learn how to transform your safety programme for 2020 with a free Safety Cloud consultation

Wishing you a happy and safe New Year!

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