Have you taken the time to re-evaluate safety in your business? See our checklist for all the developments that you need to watch out for in the 2020 and how they can help you to improve health and safety in the workplace:
Sickness and accident statistics have continued to follow the trend set in the past few years.
Since 2015, the number of workers killed at work has stayed stubbornly above 135. There were 147 fatalities between April 2018 and March 2019, slightly up on the previous year.
Usually, the greatest numbers of fatalities occur in the construction industry, but this year agriculture, forestry and fishing has nudged ahead, responsible for 32 of those deaths. More of those working in agriculture and forestry are lone workers. If they have a serious accident, there can be delays in getting help. This is a reminder to people in any industry to review lone working procedures, and make sure buddy systems are in place.
While fatality figures have not fallen, the number of reportable injuries has, dropping below 70,000 for the first time. The top two causes of injury have remained the same for several years, with slips, trips and falls at the top, followed by being injured while handling, lifting or carrying.
Labour Force Survey (LFS) figures estimate that 1.4 million workers were suffering from work-related ill health in 2018/19, with a consequent loss of 23.5 million working days. Think of all that lost productivity, as well as the misery to individuals and families. Since 2016/17, stress, anxiety and depression have been the leading cause of work-related illness, with their undesirable lead increasing each year.
If someone amputates a toe at work, there is no debate that the cause was work-related. By contrast, some employers will blame weekend DIY or gardening for musculoskeletal disorders (MSD), and will blame the economy, or workers’ personal circumstances for their mental health problems. Practically, if an employee is off work for a mental or physical health reason, the employer still has a problem.
As we saw from the statistics above, the number of people reporting stress, depression and anxiety as a reason for absence from work has increased, again. 2020 is likely to see the UK regulator, the HSE, taking more interest in mental health issues.
In October 2019 the HSE issued guidance on its approach to investigating concerns about work-related stress. Although the HSE won’t investigate individual cases of bullying or harassment, they will take action if there is a widespread “organisational failing” resulting in multiple cases.
Mental Health problems
In a survey carried out by UK Construction Week, 60% of respondents reported suffering from mental health problems due to their job. Financial worries, long hours and job demands all contributed to people’s stress levels. Nearly 4 in 10 people admitted taking time off work for mental health reasons.
If organisations are not concerned about the regulator, they should think about the productivity benefits of tackling stress.
Although most organisations track the number of days sick leave that staff have, many do not record or analyse reasons for absence systematically. Do you know what proportion of absences is down to mental health issues?
Identifying if you have a problem in the workplace, what is causing it, and what factors the employer can control should become as standard a risk assessment process as identifying and managing manual handling tasks or exposure to hazardous substances.
HSE Workbook - www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/wbk01.pdf
2019 saw the continued growth of VR in health and safety training and AR as a workplace tool. There has also been a big interest in robots in 2019, and this is likely to grow in 2020.
Age of the Robots
Robots, AI and other forms of smart automation could have lots of positive benefits. Robots can work in hazardous environments and carry out heavy lifting and repetitive movements, so that people don’t have to.
Robots are being adopted in construction and agriculture, in warehousing and logistics, in manufacturing and processing, and even in service industries such as care, retail and restaurants. Technology has enabled disabled people to work, and improved productivity for everyone.
Where one person operating a fleet of robots replaces several people working together, the practical and social implications of increased lone working need to be considered. Some staff will be concerned that their jobs could be at risk. These concerns must be identified and managed, to avoid losing your best people.
The global technology research firm, Gartner, estimates that only 9% of the workforce have a sufficient level of “digitally dexterity” to apply existing and emerging technologies to drive better business outcomes. Their solution? They use a word we hear a lot when talking about how to improve safety culture, recommending that organisations need to “boost employee engagement.”
Communication is key to this, listening to employees as well as letting them know what changes are coming along. Providing people with opportunities to improve their skills, so they can be part of the new workplaces will aid engagement and reduce concerns.
Whilst terrorism is an ever-present threat, businesses have had to cope with new challenges in 2019. In April, areas of London were disrupted by climate protestors under the Extinction Rebellion banner. By October, protests were taking place in many other cities. 2020 could see disruption spread to areas outside cities, and across the world.
Whatever your opinion of the protests, you should be looking at how protests could impact your business. Will people in safety-critical roles be able to get to work? Do you need to train other people to stand in, or introduce more robust technology to make information available where and when it is needed?
November 2019 saw dramatic floods across the north of England. Climate change could result in more dramatic swings of the weather, from floods or heavy snow to droughts. Long periods of dry weather can lead to large scale fires.
For the third year in a row we’re talking about what ‘might’ happen next year because of Brexit. One thing Is for certain: you’ve now had plenty of time to do your Brexit risk assessment. Step 5 of a risk assessment is to review it regularly, so check now if anything has changed. In particular:
- Has the proportion of your workforce that are non-UK EU workers changed? Consider what training and skills you need to build in your organisation to replace departing workers.
- Do you rely on supplies from EU countries, or from countries outside the EU, but with routes via EU countries? Risk assess any changes in the products you use.
- Some EU businesses have already cancelled contracts with UK companies to ensure business continuity. If this has happened, how has it affected morale?
Each of these points has a corollary for EU countries that trade with the UK. Consider how dependent you are on workers, suppliers and customers from the UK, and determine what the impact would be on health and safety of losing those connections
Leaving with or without a deal will not suddenly mean that EU restrictions on chemical use, driving hours, holiday entitlement or anything else will change. In many cases, the UK and Northern Ireland already had laws that went above and beyond EU requirements. In other cases, legislation has already been put in place to uphold the standards.
At time of writing, it is not clear who will be running the UK next year. However, a review of the manifestos of the main parties reveals common themes.
Occupational safety gets little mention, although there are pledges concerning minimum wage, flexible working, parental leave and the regulation of working hours. Labour have a specific pledge to introduce a maximum workplace temperature. It surprises most people to learn that while HSE recommend a minimum working temperature, there is no maximum. As the HSE explains “A meaningful figure cannot be given at the upper end of the scale due to the high temperatures found in, for example, glass works or foundries.” If your employees have to work in very hot conditions, this is a reminder to review how you manage the health impact.
Greens, Lib Dems, Labour and Conservatives all pledge to put mental health on a level with physical health, although with variations on how this will be achieved. The Labour party, Greens and Conservatives focus on how the NHS supports those with existing mental health conditions. The Liberal Democrats want to start by including mental health education as part of the school curriculum, as well as improving mental health support in universities, colleges and workplaces.
The Greens suggest that instead of measuring progress by economic growth, we should “prioritise measures of real prosperity and wellbeing.” Given the statistics on absences from work highlighted earlier, regardless of how we vote for or who wins, businesses could adopt this suggestion at their own small scale.
Remember, this is not an exhaustive list. There will always be new developments in safety, and its important to prepare for them as much as possible. If you would like help in updating health and safety management in your business, contact us today.