What can the Government do to reduce accidents at work?

The Health and Safety Executive (‘HSE’) is the UK’s national regulator for workplace health and safety.


The HSE help prevent work-related deaths, injuries and ill-health through various regulatory actions which range from influencing behaviours across whole industry sectors through to more specific interventions on individual businesses.


The numerous pro-active activities undertaken by the HSE are supported by globally recognised scientific expertise and their website,, provides a wealth of useful information to both employers and employees alike.


In this blog we take a look at what the Government continues to do in an attempt to reduce the number of accidents at work across the UK – both through the HSE and the Trades Union Congress (‘TUC’).


About the HSE


The HSE is a national independent watchdog for all work-related health, safety and illness issues. It acts in the public interest to help reduce work-related fatalities and serious injuries across the UK’s workplaces and is an executive non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Department for Work and Pensions (‘DWP’).


The HSE has an extremely informative website and supports numerous work-related campaigns. For example, at the time of writing (January 2018), there are two such campaigns in force, namely:


  1. A review of the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority (‘AALA’)


The first campaign primarily aims to ensure that the provision of licencing adventure activities is delivered in a “… sensible, proportionate and cost-effective manner”; thus, encouraging more young people to participate in safe adventure activities. The consultation period for this particular initiative began on 12th January 2018 and is scheduled to end on 9th March 2018, when it will consider the various feedback and comments from associated parties and organisations.


  1. Working with ionising radiation


On 1st January 2018 the Ionising Radiations Regulations 2017 (IRR17) replaced the former 1999 regulations. This means that, depending on the type of ionising radiation work being carried out, employers may now need to apply to HSE in order to a) notify them of the work being done, b) register the work and c) get consent for the work (depending on the level of risk involved).


In addition to ongoing campaigns such as these, the HSE also carry out much more specific work-related investigations – for example, more recently concerning an incident which occurred in October 2014 which resulted in the death of an employee having fallen, from considerable height, through a skylight.


In this particular case, the Leicester Crown Court heard how the deceased had been fixing a heater and installing a new chimney flue on a roof when he fell, resulting in severe injuries. Sadly, he passed away some 6 months later as a direct result of these injuries.


As part of their investigation, the HSE found that the work (both at height and on a fragile roof) hadn’t been properly planned, supervised or even carried out in a safe manner. The company subsequently pleaded guilty to breaching both Regulation 4 and Regulation 9(2) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and were fined £100,000 together with £35,000 in costs. At the time of writing (January 2018), records from Companies House show that the company have since suffered financially (to the point of almost being struck off the register), thus again reiterating the seriousness of employers complying with basic health and safety laws.


About the TUC


Another great source of support for the Government is the TUC who are currently celebrating their 40th anniversary – not to mention the continued success of their union health and safety representatives who operate across the UK.


Remaining one of the most important pieces of legislation, The Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 followed on from its parent act, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974; both of which have since had a significant impact on saving lives and helping to prevent both injury and illness for workers nationwide.


The TUC’s celebrations started on National Inspection Day (25th October 2017) and will now continue until 28th April 2018 which, quite significantly, celebrates Workers Memorial Day. However, whilst much of the campaign will remain centred around the past successes of union safety representatives, it also promotes focus on the future, making the case for union involvement in health and safety over the 40 years to follow.


The TUC’s membership currently stands at an impressive 100,000 members, all of whom strive to reduce injuries at work, reduce the levels of ill-health caused by the workplace and also encourages greater reporting of both injuries and ‘near misses’ in order to develop a much safer culture among organisations.


This, in turn, has potential to save the economy many millions of pounds and, of course, will also enable workers to feel much more confident in their place of work.  It’s good news for all concerned.


Benefits of Trade Union membership


There are undoubtedly numerous benefits attached to trade union (‘TU’) membership which certainly have an impressive history:-


  • In 1995, research showed employers who had TU health and safety committees had half the injury rate of those employers who didn’t.


  • In 2000, it was found that “… the proportion of employees who are trade union members has a positive and significant association on both injury and illness rates.” It further went on to say that “… the arrangements associated with trade unions…lower the odds of injury and illness when compared with arrangements that merely inform employees of occupational health and safety issues”.


  • In 2004, a further analysis of the data confirmed that “… the general conclusion that health and safety should not be left to management should be supported” (Source: Nichols, Walters and Tasiran, Working Paper Series No 48, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff, 2004).


  • In 2007, the same authors found lower injury rates in those workplaces with TU representation.


  • In 2008, a study of manual workers found that workers in unionised workplaces were less likely to have a fatal injury whilst at work.


  • More latterly, in 2013, a study of 31 industrialised countries showed that “Union density is the most important external determinant of workplace psychosocial safety climate, health and GDP”, going on to conclude that “…eroding unionism may not be good for worker health or the economy either.”


At a time when health and safety remains very much under attack, particularly by politicians who have a general tendency to see good regulation as ‘red tape’ (more specifically by those employers who simply disregard the law), the UK needs trade union support more than ever before.


Consequently, whilst the Government remain fully supportive of reducing the number of accidents at work, they must truly recognise the huge benefits that unions can bring to help drive the current figures down whilst also promoting the benefits to employers in order to harmonise relationships across a wide range of very different industries.


There can be very little doubt that organised workplaces are safer workplaces – and that remains one of the key reasons why employees join (and then tend to stay) in a trade union. In fact, when surveyed, some 70% of new TU members considered health and safety a “very important” union issue – in some cases, even more so than pay.


A survey conducted for the HSE in 1997 found that, on the whole, safety representatives are far more knowledgeable than their managers, with over 80% of safety reps having received training in health and safety over the past 2 years as compared to just 44% of managers.


Suffice it to say, the figures simply speak for themselves – and it can only be hoped that further Government support over the months and years to follow will only add a further reduction in the number of accidents which currently take place at work across the UK.

Author: Smith Jones Solicitors