The Health & Safety Executive – A step change in the right direction?

Talking about the HSE can always be a contentious issue, especially if you have been subject to enforcement action. Therefore, perceptions will differ greatly depending on who you talk to.

For years, the HSE may have been seen as perhaps a little ‘behind the times’ or ‘old fashioned’ as with many government departments. More recently, questions have been raised about the relevance of the HSE Inspectors and inspection regimes within modern industry and just how affective they are.

With a new Head of the HSE Waste & Recycling Team earlier this year, the loss of a Principle Inspector for Waste & Recycling to another sector and the development of a new 10-year strategy due for release later this year, the HSE appear to be undergoing some significant changes, which may refresh and revitalise the sector.

In 2017/18 there were 12 fatal injuries and around 5,000 non-fatal injuries within the waste and recycling sector. Whilst we have seen an overall decline in fatalities in recent years, these are still well-above the national average across all industries.

The number of non-fatal injuries is also still high, however, what is perhaps even more alarming, is the severity of these incidents appears to be increasing. There is clearly still a lot of work to do to make our sector safer and the HSE (whatever opinion you may have of them) is key in driving forward these improvements.

Improvements in the Health and Safety performance of the rapidly growing waste and recycling industry remains a high priority for the HSE according to their Annual Science Review released earlier this year, which looked at human factors, Occupational Health and Ergonomics in tackling worker fatalities.

The HSE is currently preparing operational guidance for Quarter 3, which will look specifically at Machinery, Transport and Bio-aerosols in tandem with a two-week media campaign in November. In the last four months, the HSE has brought about three prosecutions relating to machinery and ‘lock-off’ procedures (or lack of!). With at least one death every year from entanglement, it is clear there are still fundamental flaws with operational processes across the sector, which need to be improved.

Unfortunately, the HSE, like any government authority, is extremely stretched in terms of resources, so the majority of enforcement action is responsive rather than reactive. If you have been the subject of a HSE inspection or visit over the past year then it is highly likely that you will receive a follow up visit over the next twelve months to ensure compliance with any enforcement action undertaken. Perhaps this is one of the first signs that the HSE is taking a more proactive approach as part of a wider step-change in tackling fatalities within our sector, which is certainly a step-change in the right direction!