Health and safety roundup - December 2019

We have taken a look at some of the key topics emerging in health and safety over recent months and interesting recent developments in the area. Here is a short summary of what we found:

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) releases 2018/19 injury and ill-health statistics

The HSE has released its annual injury and ill-health statistics. A few key observations include:

  • The UK (in keeping with previous years) has one of the lowest rates of fatal injury across Europe.
  • The rate of both fatal and non-fatal injuries in the UK continue to show a downward trend.
  • The rate of self-reported work-related stress, depression or anxiety in the UK has not changed significantly since last year, however the rate has shown signs of increasing overall in recent years.
  • Construction has the highest rate of musculoskeletal injuries across the industries, but the rate of these types of injures generally is showing a downwards trend. 147 workers were fatally injured at work in 2018/2019.

HSE statistics on enforcement

The HSE has released its 2018/2019 statistics on enforcement.

This year has seen a continuing downward trend on the number of cases taken forward to prosecution. 394 prosecution cases resulting in a verdict (whether conviction or acquittal) were brought by the HSE, a reduction of 23% from the following year. The number of improvement and prohibition notices has also decreased.

This may not come as a surprise to many in the industry, given the continuing resource and funding issues the regulator faces. The HSE is looking into why the figures have dropped so dramatically when there has been no change to its enforcement policy, but it has not so far put the decrease down to funding issues. According to the HSE, the reduction could be due to the additional time taken up by inspectors needing to deal with the implications of the Sentencing Guideline (i.e. challenges to their assessment of the Guideline by defence solicitors and more cases being taken to Newton Hearings because of it).

In our experience, the HSE usually position the assessment of the case at its highest in terms of harm category and culpability. It is therefore not surprising that defendants feel there is no option but to challenge those assessments in the courts, leading to more lengthy and protracted sentencing exercises and an increased number of trials.

2019 fines in review

Looking back over 2019, the following were amongst some of the highest fines we saw imposed by courts for health and safety failings:

  • In June 2019 Valero Energy UK was fined £5 million after an explosion killed four workers and seriously injured another at an oil refinery in Pembrokeshire in 2011.
  • In October 2019 Celsa Manufacturing (UK) Ltd was fined £1.8 million after an explosion killed two workers and injured others. The fine was imposed by Cardiff Crown Court following a guilty plea.
  • In July 2019 Delphi Diesel Systems Limited was fined £1 million by Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court after two employees were burnt by the vapour of a flammable material.
  • In January 2019 Veolia UK was fined £1 million after a worker was killed by a reversing vehicle.

These levels of fine demonstrate that although prosecution levels are lower than they have been in a long time, the stakes are still high especially for large companies which, if successfully prosecuted, can face fines in excess of £1 million.

Read more items in Health, Safety and Environment Brief - December 2019