Health and safety in the manufacturing industry – an increasingly hands on approach by Britain's national regulator

The manufacturing sector is a major employer across Great Britain which according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), accounts for around 8% of the total workforce with an estimated 2.5 million workers and an output of over £180 billion.

Health and safety statistics

According to a report published by the HSE, the manufacturing industry saw 22 fatal injuries in 2021/2022, the second highest number of work related deaths behind the construction industry.

The risks in manufacturing are well known. The main cause of fatal injuries identified in the report was contact with moving machinery, which accounted for almost a fifth of deaths. Being struck by a moving object, falls from height, being trapped by something collapsing or overturning and being struck by a moving vehicle were amongst the remaining top causes.

In addition, an estimated 54,000 workers sustained non-fatal injuries, with just over a quarter of these resulting in absence from work of over seven days. Slips, trips and falls remain the leading cause of these non-fatal injuries.

HSE strategy

The fundamental principle of the most recent HSE strategy, ‘Protecting People and Places’, continues to ensure that those who create risk take responsibility for controlling risk and that those who fail to do so are held to account and bear the cost.

The key objectives of the HSE strategy are to:

  1. Reduce work-related ill health, with a specific focus on mental health and stress.
  2. Increase and maintain trust to ensure people feel safe where they live, where they work and, in their environment.
  3. Enable industry to innovate safely to prevent major incidents, supporting the move towards net zero.
  4. Maintain Great Britain’s record as one of the safest countries to work in.
  5. Ensure that HSE is a great place to work and attracts and retains exceptional people.

Sitting under its five objectives are six strategic themes which will guide the HSE’s regulatory activities from 2022 to 2032. These themes include being relevant, fair and just, as well as people focussed, collaborative and financially viable.

Through the strategic themes, the HSE plans to influence behaviours to reduce risk but also challenge businesses with the poorest health and safety records to improve their performance. It states that as a responsible regulator, it will continue to target its work appropriately, including towards high risk activities.

In terms of being financially viable, where a material breach of health and safety legislation has been identified, the HSE will also continue to recover its costs through the Fee For Intervention scheme introduced by the Health and Safety and Nuclear (Fees) Regulations 2021. This allows the HSE to recover fees for any work done to investigate and identify a breach. The hourly recovery rate under the scheme now stands at £163 which represents a significant cost to businesses facing an investigation.

Control of substances hazardous to health

In line with the commitments contained within its strategy plan, the HSE has recently launched a new inspection initiative targeting the manufacturing sector where materials that contain silica are used. Silica particles are known to cause a range of conditions including silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. Over time, exposure to the particles can harm a worker’s ability to breathe and cause irreversible, often fatal, lung disease. Occupational lung disease causes the death of 12,000 people in Great Britain annually and there are 18,000 new cases that are caused or exacerbated by work. Unsurprisingly, this has long been an area of focus for the HSE.

The inspections will check whether employers and workers know the risks involved when dealing with silica and ensure that businesses have control measures in place to protect workers’ respiratory health. This will include brick and tile manufacturers, foundries, stone working sites and manufacturers of kitchen worktops.

Employers have a legal duty to put in place suitable arrangements to manage health and safety and must comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH). Inspectors will therefore be looking for evidence that businesses have put in place effective measures, such as Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV), water suppression and where appropriate, use of protective equipment such as Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) to reduce workers’ exposure. If any health and safety breaches are discovered, the HSE will take enforcement action to make sure workers’ health is protected.

To support the industry and in its role as an enabling regulator, the HSE has refreshed its silica guidance and has published an e-bulletin which supplements the existing industry guidance available on its website.


The manufacturing sector can expect the HSE to maintain its focus on the industry and continue with its programme of targeted and comprehensive inspections. In anticipation of this, businesses should ensure existing processes have been tested and reviewed, with any additional necessary safety procedures being implemented with relevant training rolled out to ensure compliance.

The HSE has already pledged to use its full range of enforcement approaches to take proportionate action against business which do not comply with the law and/or put people at risk by cutting corners for profit. This, combined with the readily available industry guidance, sends a clear message to businesses to be prepared.

Read other items in Crime and Regulatory Brief – April 2023

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