• Lee Calver
  • 29 July 2014

All in a week's work for the HSE!

Not many weeks pass without the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) releasing new research or detailing a recent prosecution, but last week was possibly the busiest for the HSE in a long time.

First up, it revealed the results of its national targeted inspection which focused on health risks for construction workers.

During a two-week period of proactive inspections, the HSE demanded improvements and in cases where sites fell short of expected standards, put an immediate stop to work activities.

HSE revealed that its Inspectors focused on significant health risk issues, such as respiratory risks from dusts containing silica materials, exposure to other hazardous substances such as cement and lead paint, manual handling, noise and vibration.

Although final figures from the initiative are yet to be confirmed, it did state that conditions were so poor in certain situations that work had to be stopped on at least 13 occasions.

Following a total of 560 visits to sites, 85 enforcement notices and 107 improvement notices were served, as well the 13 prohibition notices which stopped work on site.

Incredibly, a total of 239 health-related Notices of Contravention were served at 201 of the sites. A HSE spokesman confirmed that these notices generate an FFI invoice. He explained that a Notice of Contravention is issued where there has been a material breach of health and safety law but not so bad as to require a prohibition notice or an improvement notice.

Commenting, HSE’s Chief Inspector, Heather Bryant, said last week:

“We recognise the construction sector’s progress in reducing the number of people killed and injured by its activities. But it is clear from these figures that there is an unacceptable toll of ill-health and fatal disease in the industry.”

Bryant continued:

“So, to encourage the industry to treat health issues in the same way as safety, HSE’s Inspectors will consolidate the efforts of this initiative throughout the rest of the year by looking at the prevention and control of health risks in construction, alongside their continued assessment of the management of safety risk issues.

“We will make sure the construction industry ‘Thinks health’ as well as safety.”

Myth busters panel looks at 300th case

In addition to unveiling the results of its two-week blitz on construction site health and safety, the HSE also revealed that its health and safety myth busting panel had reached its 300th case.

The panel of experts, which was set up in 2012 to expose incorrect or overzealous interpretation of health and safety regulations, has over the years put to bed a substantial amount of rather bizarre things blamed on ‘health and safety’.

The myth busters panel encourages members of the public to tell them when they think health and safety has been cited wrongly. It then draws on the knowledge of a range of panel members, from a variety of backgrounds, to consider the facts and then publishes a ruling. Examples of cases that the panel have heard include a charity shop that refused to sell knitting needles, a school that banned yo-yos from the playground and a fishmonger who refused to fillet a fish!

Its 300th case, which was published last week, was a village pub that did not have a mirror in the disabled toilet due to ‘health and safety’ reasons. The challenge panel ruled the decision “ridiculous”, stating that it was merely a feeble excuse to mask the real reason of cutting costs.

Following the announcement of that case, Judith Hackitt, Chair of HSE and the Myth Busters Challenge Panel, said:

“I never cease to be amazed at the cases brought to our attention and they just keep on coming.

“‘Health and safety’ is trotted out all too often, an easy way to hide the real reason for refusal to do or allow something, which is usually just bad customer service. Health and safety regulations are there to deal with risks to life and limb in the workplace; not for jobsworths to hide behind.”

Mark Harper, Minister for Disabled People, who is also the Minister with responsibility for the HSE, commented:

“The Health and Safety at Work Act has saved thousands of lives in its 40 years and we should celebrate its achievements. What it hasn’t done is stopped anyone putting a mirror in a disabled toilet, children from playing conkers, or any of the other excuses blamed on health and safety.”

Sickness absence costing waste industry £70m

A three-year study by the HSE has estimated that worker absence due to ill-health could be costing the waste and recycling industry as much as £70m a year.

After analysing the results of 32 different organisations’ data on sickness absence, the HSE said that the average number of working days lost to sickness absence in the waste and recycling workers surveyed as part of this study was 10.3 days, which equates to a working days absence rate of 4.0%.

It also stated that the sickness absence rates of the individual organisations participating in this survey varied widely, even when considering in isolation the rates for those organisations operating in the same industry sector and of similar size. For example, average local authority absence rates varied between a low of 7.8 days per worker per year up to a high of 24.0.

The HSE used the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) estimates that state one worker being absent for one day will usually cost an organisation £100 to reach the figure of £70m.

The findings are unveiled in the study, ‘National survey of the burden of sickness absence in the waste and recycling industry’, which also reveals that the average number of absence days for waste and recycling workers employed by local authorities each year (13.7 days) to be more than double the average number in the private sector (6 days).

It also found that approximately 60% of all working days lost to absences were due to long term-absences of greater than 20 days.

Commenting on the findings, the HSE said:

“This suggests either that the ill health underlying long term absences is inherently more common in waste and recycling workers, or that returns to work following prolonged absence are less well managed by line managers in the waste and recycling sector, resulting in more prolonged periods of absence than perhaps necessary.”

While in its summary, the report states:

“This study also suggests that, in those organisations that participated, significant room for improvement exists in the way episodes of sickness absence taken by workers are recorded and the data on sickness absences is made use of. For example, better use of such datasets by managers may enable targeted measures that tackle local sickness absence problems to be implemented, bringing about the reductions in sickness absence rates desired.”

Going forward, the report suggests that a reduction of just 10% in sick days will result in savings of up to £7m for the whole sector.

Furthermore, it recommends that approaches to “promote healthier lifestyles and improved health and wellbeing will be of particular benefit in waste and recycling workers, perhaps helping reduce the rates of long-term absences observed for these workers in particular”.

To read the report in full, please click here.