Why The HSE Is Making Us Think Twice About Safety

The year 1974 was a watershed for UK Health & Safety. It was the year that saw the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act. British industry has changed substantially since then and data shows there have been large reductions in work-related injury and ill health.

Stress, depression and anxiety may have gone up (although it is likely that it’s actually the reporting that increased as awareness and attitudes to work-related stress changed in the 1990s) but according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) fatal injuries to employees have fallen by a massive 83%. Many of us are now so aware of Health & Safety considerations, that we don’t bat an eyelid when airlines claim boiled sweets are banned on safety grounds or hotels tell us bath mats are a trip hazard. Such was the frustration of the HSE about these claims that they indulged in some myth busting, citing bans on yo-yos in playgrounds, knives in kitchens and kettles in offices as prime examples where workplace safety laws have been wrongly blamed as the cause of ‘unreasonable’ policies. A quarter of the “stream of silly decisions wrongly blamed on health and safety” the HSE looked at were down to the “over-interpretation of legitimate guidelines, leading to daft decisions being made, probably through fear of being sued”. But can you blame the over-cautious? For a start, you don’t need to have an accident to be fined. The HSE can investigate business where it suspects workers are at risk of harm, without there having already been such an incident.

An Essex construction company recently found this out to their cost, being fined for putting workers at risk after neglecting to check and maintain a potentially dangerous piece of lifting equipment. Basildon Magistrates’ Court heard that a forklift truck in heavy use went more than 12 months without any kind of thorough examination, despite it being a legal requirement to do so at least once a year. The truck, used to move heavy steel fabrications, was kept in continuous use and showing obvious signs of disrepair. An investigation by the HSE found that when the truck was eventually examined, only six items out of 24 that formed the basis of the report were marked “satisfactory”. The remaining 18 items were classed as “repair needed”. Amazingly, defects included worn out tyres, flashing beacons and lamps not working and a loose counter-weight. Chargers were made of breaches of the Lifting Operations & Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 and Provision & Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. The result was a fine of £3,000 plus £3,238 in costs. HSE inspector, Keith Waller, explained: “All machinery must be maintained regularly to ensure it is safe to work with and be near. It is not enough to rely on reactive maintenance and only fix things when they go wrong; companies should be looking for signs of wear and tear before any deterioration leads to an incident. HSE will not hesitate to prosecute when companies neglect their equipment and put workers and others at risk.” Even without an accident then, forklift users should ensure their equipment is well maintained. That’s even more important for access platforms, where inspections should be carried out at least twice a year.

If you’re unsure, please get in touch. We offer free no-obligation advice regarding LOLER and PUWER safety regulations to any business operating lifting or access equipment.