What Can we Learn from the HSE Annual Statistics Report?
Unsurprisingly, the publication of the HSE annual statistics report on 31 October 2018 was not front-page news. However, whilst trawling through tables and data may not sound like an interesting exercise, the results provides a useful insight into what the HSE have been doing but also what they might do next.
In 2017/18 the HSE and COPFS achieved a conviction in 493 cases. They state that their conviction rate is 95%. However, what they actually mean is that in those cases, which have gone as far as a verdict, there has been a guilty verdict on at least one count. The HSE does not publish the number of prosecutions that are dropped, dismissed or in which there is an acquittal at half time. It also takes no account of where guilty pleas may have been accepted to lesser charges. As a result, a 95% conviction rate may not in fact represent the whole picture as those who appear in such cases would recognise it.
In the same period there was, overall, a slight decline in the number of enforcement notices issued. The HSE issued less than the previous year (8,942) but Local Authorities issues more (2,580). Comparatively, the figures have been fairly stable in recent years. Almost two thirds of the notices issued were improvement notices.
In 2017-2018, £72.6 million in fines were ordered for Health and Safety prosecution by the HSE and the COPFS in Scotland. Despite the fact that the number of cases being prosecuted has dropped, this is almost £1 million more than the previous year. It does, at least, show that the value of fines is starting to level out. In the first year following the introduction of the sentencing guidelines the HSE had reported an 80% increase in fines. The increase in the value of fines is not down to more fines being ordered but is largely a result of very large fines being levied on large organisations. In the last year, the single largest fine was £3 million and 45 cases were fined more than £500,000. By way of comparison, immediately before the guidelines there were only 5 cases in a year with fines over £500,000.
The question will be what effect we can expect to see on next year’s statistics following the introduction of the sentencing guidelines for manslaughter. Last year immediate custodial sentences were imposed in only 7% of cases, with suspended sentences only slightly higher at 9%. All indicators seem to suggest that those figures can be expected to rise.
In addition to the enforcement analysis, the HSE has analysed statistics on the number of fatalities and workplace injuries. This is slightly up on the year before (137) but, overall, there is a long-term downward trend in the rates of fatal workplace injuries. The HSE is pleased to report that the UK has consistently one of the lowest standardised rates of fatal injury across the EU, and lower than both other large economies and the EU average. However, this does not take into account those who were not workers but were killed in workplace accidents. A further 100 members of the public were killed due to work related activities in 2017/18, of which just over half occurred on railways.
The report analysed the statistics by industry and, on a first reading, the Construction Industry did not fare well. 40% of all prosecutions related to the Construction Industry (with the closest competitors being the Manufacturing Industry (26%) and Communications, Business Services and Finance (10%)). The Construction Industry accounted for over a quarter of all workplace deaths (with Agriculture (20%) and Manufacturing Industries (10%) following behind). However, the Construction Industry is also by far the larger employer. If you compare injury rates, the number of injuries per 100,000 employees, the Construction Industry’s rate of fatal injuries is still 4 times as high as the average rate across all industries but is considerably lower than the rate in either Agriculture or Waste and Recycling which are 18 and 16 times the average rate respectively.
These annual statistics feed directly into the work of the HSE and it is plain that they may provide a clue to the industries and issues about which the HSE will be particularly concerned in the coming months and years. Last year, when the high fatality rates in the Waste industry were identified in the HSE statistic, the HSE published a report on “Common human factors underlying worker fatalities in the waste and recycling industry”. This year, the particular concerns indicated within the Construction industry will likely mean a maintained focus on that sector. In fact, the HSE Business plan for 2018/19 identifies amongst its priorities “Deliver targeted interventions focusing on the control of high-consequence risks from legionella, fairgrounds and major construction projects (emphasis added)”
If further proof were needed, the statistics showed that there were 12,000 lung disease deaths each year estimated to be linked to past exposures at work, of which 3,500 were estimated to come from the Construction Industry. As a result, immediately before publication of the statistics the HSE launched its latest construction health inspection initiative in which it inspected 1000 sites to determine what they were doing to protect their workers’ lungs.