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HSE publishes 6th annual science review

This year the theme is COVID-19: Collaboration in a time of crisis and has a particular focus on the pandemic and the role that HSE science has played.

The review looks at HSE’s contribution to the evolving global evidence base and the routes it has used to share that knowledge as quickly as possible.

The extensive document provides case studies from the range of science and engineering work the HSE have delivered and illustrates how it uses science and evidence to help keep people and work environments healthy and safe.

The review is introduced by HSE’s Chief Scientific Adviser and Director of Research, Professor Andrew Curran. As well as highlighting scientific achievements, awards and publications, it also focuses on the roles of some of our specialist staff.

You can read the full document here.

HSE releases workplace deaths data

Provisional data released by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) shows that a total of 142 workers were killed at work in Great Britain in 2020/21, an increase of 29 from the previous year – though the number of deaths in 2019/20 (113) was low compared to other recent years. 

In statistical terms the number of fatalities has remained broadly level in recent years – the average annual number of workers killed at work over the five years 2016/17-2020/21 is 136.

Over the past 20 years there has been a long-term reduction in the number of workplace fatalities, demonstrating that Great Britain is one of the safest places to work in the world.

The figures released by the HSE relate to workplace incidents. They do not include deaths arising from occupational exposure to disease, including Covid-19. 

HSE’s Chief Executive, Sarah Albon, said: “Whilst the working world in which we now live has created new health challenges for workers and for those who have a duty towards them, safety must also remain a priority. Whilst the picture has improved considerably over the longer term and Great Britain is one of the safest places to work in the world, every loss of life is a tragedy, we are committed to ensuring that workplaces are as safe as they can be and that employers are held to account and take their obligations seriously.”

The three most common causes of fatal injuries continue to be workers falling from height (35), being struck by a moving vehicle (25) and being struck by a moving object (17), accounting for more than half of fatalities in 2020/21.

These figures also continue to highlight the risks to older workers with around 30 per cent of fatal injuries in 2020/21 involving workers aged 60 or over, even though such workers only make up around 11 per cent of the workforce.

In addition, members of the public continue to be killed in connection with work-related incidents. In 2020/21, 60 members of the public were killed as a result of a work-related incident.

The figures for Mesothelioma, which is a cancer contracted through past exposure to asbestos and is one of the few work-related diseases where deaths can be counted directly, show 2,369 people died in Great Britain in 2019. This is seven per cent lower than the average of 2,540 deaths over the previous seven years. 

Current mesothelioma deaths largely reflect occupational asbestos exposures that occurred before the 1980s. The figure for 2019 is consistent with projections that a reduction in total annual deaths would start to become apparent at this point. However, it is still not certain how quickly annual deaths will decline. 

A fuller assessment of work-related ill-health and injuries, drawing on HSE’s full range of data sources, will be provided as part of the annual Health and Safety Statistics release on 16 December 2021.

HSE steps up COVID spot checks as lockdown eases

As we continue the roadmap out of lock down and more businesses re-open, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says it’s working with local authorities to carry out spot checks and inspections on local businesses.

The reopening of the economy means that the opportunity for COVID to spread is increased substantially, so the HSE says it’s critical that businesses shouldn’t become complacent, i.e., they still need to have COVID-secure measures in place.

The HSE is calling and visiting all types of businesses, in all areas, to check the measures they’ve put in place to manage the risk from coronavirus, are in line with the current guidance. This includes businesses that have continued to operate throughout the pandemic, those that have recently reopened and those due to open in the coming weeks.

The body is continuing to work closely with local authorities, assisting them in their targeting of premises in the sectors they regulate such as hospitality and retail.

During spot checks and inspections, the HSE provides guidance and advice where required, but where businesses aren’t managing the risk, action will be taken. This can range from the provision of specific advice, issuing enforcement notices and stopping certain work practices until they are made safe. Where businesses fail to comply, this could lead to prosecution.

The COVID-secure measures businesses should have in place include:

  • Risk assessment: every workplace should have a COVID risk assessment. Update it to reflect any changes in legislation or guidance that may impact your work activity.
  • Social distancing: where possible you should keep people two metres apart. If this is not viable, keeping one metre apart with risk mitigation, such as screens, is acceptable.
  • Cleaning, hygiene and handwashing: keeping your workplace clean reduces the potential for coronavirus to spread. It is a critical part of making and keeping your business COVID-secure.
  • Ventilation and air conditioning: can help reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus.
  • Talk to workers: provide information about providing support and maintaining control measures.
  • Working from home: provide the equipment they need, keep in regular contact and discuss their wellbeing.
  • Vulnerable workers: talk to staff, provide information and consider the risk to workers who are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus – putting controls in place to reduce that risk.

Angela Storey, Director of Transformation and Operational Services at HSE, said: “As we come out of lockdown, we are continuing to work with local authorities to check businesses are COVID-secure and providing guidance and advice where needed.

“Our spot checks and inspections support the cross-government work in helping employers and employees that have worked throughout the pandemic and those returning as lockdown measures ease. All workplaces are in scope for spot checks which means businesses of any size, in any sector can receive an unannounced check from HSE or an inspection from the local authority, to check they are COVID-secure.

“If you are contacted by the HSE or your local authority, please engage with us. By checking businesses have measures in place to manage the risks, we can benefit the health of local communities as well as support the local and national UK economy.”

Further information on spot checks and inspections is available on the HSE website.

HSE releases tools to help employers manage stress in the workplace

Stress management is a big factor in health and safety which has knock-on effects for psychological wellbeing and accident prevention – so the HSE has released a series of new tools and resources to help employers manage stress in the workplace. 

The tools include online resources and new risk assessments that are intended to help employers spot signs of worker ill-mental health and develop strategies for dealing with them.

The HSE says the toll of psychological ill-health on an organisation can be really damaging, with risks including increased suicide rates and accidents due to psychological issues. These all have the ability to seriously impact health and safety.

The HSE is urging employers to review the stress-causing factors within their workplace that employees could be subjected to. With stress and depression accounting for 51% of all work-related ill health, the issue is a big problem for companies, their workforce and their efficiency, the body says.

The HSE Executive also released 6 key factors that need to be looked at when it comes to managing stress in the workplace. 

  1. Demands: workload and the work environment
  2. Control: how much control the individual has over their work
  3. Support: how much support and encouragement resources are available 
  4. Relationships: does the working environment encourage good behaviours? 
  5. Role: whether they understand their role within the organisation
  6. Change: how to change large or small is communicated

The HSE Executive’s Head of Stress and Mental Health Policy said: “It’s well known that stress can make you ill. We know that work-related stress depression and anxiety has increased in recent years, and the last year has presented new challenges that have never been faced before, and which may affect the workplaces of the UK for some time to come.

“Good communication is vital as stress affects people differently – what stresses one person may not affect another. If you don’t understand the problem or its extent, tackling it will be more difficult. Factors like skills and experience, age or disability may all affect whether an employee can cope. People feel stress when they can’t cope with the pressures or demands put on them, either in work or other outside issues. Start talking to your colleagues about any issues now – the earlier a problem is tackled the less impact it will have.”

HSE announces Peter Baker as Chief Inspector of Buildings

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has announced the appointment of a Chief Inspector of Buildings to establish and lead the new Building Safety Regulator (BSR).

Peter Baker, HSE’s current Director of Building Safety and Construction, will take up the post with immediate effect. The move follows the government asking the HSE to establish a new building safety regulator in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster and following recommendations in the ‘Building a Safer Future’ report by Dame Judith Hackitt.

In his role as the Chief Inspector of Buildings, Baker will head up the Building Safety Regulator to deliver the new regime for high risk buildings, oversee work to increase competence of all professionals working on buildings and ensure effective oversight of the entire building safety environment.

Baker will also be the first head of the building control profession, and lead the work to provide independent, expert advice to industry, government, landlords and residents on building safety.

He has over 30 years’ experience with HSE as an Inspector and in a number of senior operational posts dealing with a wide range of industry sectors, including the role of HSE’s Chief Inspector of Construction. Since 2017 Peter has led HSE’s involvement in the Government’s Building Safety Programme.

Baker said: “I am honoured to be appointed as the first Chief Inspector of Buildings and for the opportunity to play a lead role in bringing about the biggest change in building safety for a generation. I look forward to working with government, industry, partner regulators and residents to shape and deliver a world-class risk-based regulatory system for the safety and standards of buildings that residents can have confidence in and that we can all be proud of.”

Sarah Newton, HSE’s Chair said: “I would like to congratulate Peter on his appointment as the new Chief Inspector of Buildings. Peter has a long track record of working in partnership with industry and other regulators to bring about behavioural and culture change that improves people’s safety.  His deep understanding of assessing and managing hazards and risk makes him ideally suited to shape and lead the implementation of the new building safety regime.” 

HSE to Ensure transport services are COVID-Secure in Xmas run up

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says it’s working with local authorities to inspect businesses in the transport and logistics industry to ensure they are managing the risk of coronavirus (COVID-19).

With the current lockdown restrictions, the demand for online shopping is already high and this is expected to increase over the next few weeks. This will also increase demand in the supply chain for the sector.

HSE inspectors and local authority officers will be visiting warehouses and distribution centres across the country to make sure workplaces are COVID-secure and following the relevant guidance.

Being COVID-secure means that businesses need to put in place workplace controls such as social distancing and cleaning arrangements to manage the risk and protect workers and others from coronavirus.

They will be making sure that businesses have suitable toilet and handwashing facilities for all workers, including visiting drivers. They will also check other health and safety matters if required.

HSE provides a range of advice and guidance to support businesses, including:

  • Making your workplace COVID-secure
  • Driver welfare
  • Social distancing – a step-by-step guide
  • Risk assessment
  • Vehicles at work

Information from the visits will be shared to promote good practice and assist the industry in meeting the combined challenges of COVID and the seasonal surge in demand.

Harvey Wild, Head of HSE’s Transport and Public Services Unit, said: “The logistics and distribution industry overall has seen a significant increase in business activity over the past few months and, with shops and retail centres closed, there will be a surge in online shopping in the run up to the festive period.

“As a result of this, we will see an increase in the number of agency and temporary workers in the transport and logistics sector to meet the demand. It’s important that all workers and also customers feel confident that measures are being taken to protect them from Covid-19.

“Employers have a legal duty to protect workers and others from harm and this includes taking reasonable steps to control the risk and protect people from coronavirus. We encourage businesses to consult with their workers on the changes they put in place to become COVID-secure. This is to provide reassurance for workers and to also increase confidence in customers and the local community.

“Becoming COVID-secure not only benefits the health of our communities and vital businesses, it also good for the health of the UK economy.”

Further guidance is also available for EnglandWales and Scotland.

HSE welcomes introduction of Covid-19 research programme

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been asked to lead one of seven studies as part of a national COVID-19 research programme funded by the UK government and fronted by the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.

Britain’s regulator for workplace health and safety has been asked to lead a study addressing the transmission of COVID-19 in the environment, including in workplaces, transport and other public settings.

The study is structured around five themes, each led by a leading scientist in the field: Professor Cath Noakes (Leeds University), Allan Bennett (Public Health England), Prof Wendy Barclay (Imperial College), Prof Martie van Tongeren (University of Manchester) and Dr Yiqun Chen (HSE).

Reacting to the news, HSE’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Andrew Curran said: “HSE is privileged to lead this programme and use our experience in workplace risk management to improve our understanding of how the virus is transmitted. We employ some of the leading scientists in workplace health and safety who are skilled in addressing complex issues such as this. We will also harness the knowledge and expertise of our counterparts in other organisations to coordinate the most effective response to answer these important questions.

“As findings emerge, they will be shared. We hope they will feed directly into effective approaches and guidance that will help improve practices in workplaces. This work will yield information on an ongoing basis, improving our understanding of what a COVID-Secure workplace looks like. When infection rates will allow sustained re-opening of the economy, working safely will be even more crucial than it is now.”

The National Core Studies are a small group of key research projects and infrastructure programmes designed to answer essential policy and operational questions as the UK enters the first winter period of the coronavirus pandemic.

The seven studies will examine fundamental questions such as: the levels of infection in the general population and in specific settings such as schools and nursing homes, the role of different environments in enhancing spread, and whether antibodies confer protection and for how long.

The programme will be a multi-agency response with each study lead drawing upon the best scientific knowledge and expertise available in the UK from within government and academia to help ensure these and other critical questions are answered quickly and well.

HSE outlines COVID-safe learnings in Scottish schools

Using coloured spots to highlight frequency touched points and introducing alternatives to staggered start and stop times were some of the examples of good practice carried out by schools in Scotland to ensure they are COVID-secure.

These are some of the examples of good practice discovered by Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors after carrying out a programme of COVID-secure school spot checks in Scotland regarding the implementation of school reopening guidance.

Since August, a total of 500 schools have been contacted to check they are COVID-secure and compliant with the Scottish government’s school reopening guidance.

To give a representative sample of schools across Scotland, 16 local authorities were selected for the focus of the checks, and a proportionate number of primary schools and secondary schools were selected in each area. In addition, a sample of Additional Support Needs (ASN) schools and independent schools were also contacted.

Following the initial calls, HSE found around 80% of schools had a good understanding on being COVID-secure. Where levels of compliance were less certain in 100 schools, HSE undertook follow-up site visits.

Harvey Wild, Head of HSE’s Transport and Public Services Unit, said: “In our view the Scottish government’s school reopening guidance was very good quality, and was viewed positively by schools in what can only be described as very challenging circumstances.

“It appeared to be flexible enough to be implemented appropriately in different settings and adapted to local circumstances ensuring most schools we contacted were COVID-secure.

“The majority of schools in Scotland reacted very quickly to implement new measures. For those schools where compliance was less certain, formal spot inspections were carried out by a team of HSE inspectors.

“This enabled the inspectors to go to the schools and see what COVID-secure measures were in place so they could then offer formal advice and guidance where needed.”

All the HSE spot inspections at schools in Scotland were completed by the beginning of October and, based on the inspections undertaken, HSE found no need for any formal interventions requiring improvement. Any areas of concerns were dealt with by verbal advice.

Our inspectors did find some common areas of concern where schools needed to make changes. This centred around social distancing in staff room areas, cleaning regimes and ventilation in school buildings.

For ventilation, most schools were relying on windows and doors being open for long periods of time and HSE’s feeling was that schools/local authorities may need to conduct a simple risk assessment of fresh air in schools. In light of this the Scottish Government developed further guidance to assist schools – see www.gov.scot.

Wild added: “While highlighting some areas of concern to schools, our inspectors also found some novel and new examples of good practice.

“Regarding social distancing, one primary school had considered replacing the two metre lines to separate teachers from pupils with a painting of a river, to help pupils understand the concept of not crossing it.

“Another school introduced creative alternatives to staggered start and stop times by using multiple exits at the same time. This prevented parents waiting for long periods of time at the school gate.

“These examples show how well most schools have adopted COVID-secure measures, but there can’t be room for complacency. Ensuring a school has measures in place to manage any COVID risks can only benefit the health of the local community they serve.”