Health and safety roundup: December 2020

We have taken a look at some of the HSE focus areas and key developments emerging over recent months. Here is a short summary of what we found:

COVID-19 – HSE undertaking unannounced inspections

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been undertaking unannounced inspections of businesses across all sectors over the last 6 months or so, to check that they have adequate control measures in place to make them ‘COVID-secure’.

On 23 November 2020, the HSE announced that in the run up to the festive period, it will be working with local authorities to focus its COVID-19 inspections on businesses in the transport and logistics industry. The logic behind this decision appears to be because of the probable increase in online shopping this year. With transport hubs and distribution warehouses busier than ever, there is potentially a higher risk of COVID-19 exposure to employees in those sectors.

HSE inspectors will be looking closely at those companies to make sure that arrangements are in place and, equally importantly, that staff are supervised and monitored to make sure that control measures are being followed.

The HSE has indicated that it is “looking to work with employers” but where businesses are not managing the risk, the HSE and local authority officers “will take action”. The usual arrangements should be put in place at these businesses (for example, a single point of contact for the HSE and a protocol to escalate matters to the internal health and safety team or legal team if necessary). Companies may also want to test their own COVID-19 procedures internally, by carrying out their own internal audits as a ‘test run’.

Related item: ‘COVID-secure’ workplaces: taking all reasonably practicable measures  

Council fined after teacher assaulted by pupil

Not so long ago, prosecutions of Local Councils were relatively uncommon.

More recently, however, investigations and prosecutions of Councils have become more common, and fines have increased over the years. In recent years, we have seen fines levied on Councils in the order of £1 million. The type of risks of interest to the HSE have also, in our experience, widened in scope.

In October 2020, Luton Borough Council was sentenced following a successful HSE prosecution relating to an investigation into control of violence at work risks to teachers after a pupil attacked a teacher with a mobile phone. The teacher sustained life changing injuries in the attack and the Council was fined £104,000 (reduced from £300,000 due to the Council’s lack of revenue as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic). This demonstrates that the HSE will now take a similar approach to investigating and prosecuting Councils as it does to investigating and prosecuting privately owned companies.

HSE’s reported workplace accidents

According to media reports, following a freedom of information request the HSE has provided details of its own reported workplace accidents. The media reports indicate that the HSE has recorded 218 workplace accidents over the past five years, with 57 people needing medical treatment, demonstrating the challenges faced by all organisations in preventing incidents from occurring. An HSE spokesman is quoted in The Times as saying “while our record on reported injuries compares favourably with Great Britain as a whole, we are committed to continuously improving our practices”.

Legislative update

The Fire Safety Bill

The Fire Safety Bill is expected to empower fire and rescue services to use their enforcement powers where they consider there is a failure to reduce the risk of fire from structural aspects of a building. Having had its third reading in the House of Lords on 24 November 2020, the Bill was then returned to the House of Commons with amendments. The next stage in the passage of the Bill through Parliament is for those amendments to be considered on the floor of the House of Commons (on a date to be announced).

Related item: Bill to remove ambiguity from fire safety legislation for multi-occupancy residential buildings

Update on the Environment Bill

The Environment Bill continues its progress through the House of Commons, having initially been introduced in October 2019. The Bill was introduced  to “tackle the biggest environmental priorities of our time”.

On 26 November 2020, the Public Bill Committee completed its work on the Bill, reporting the Bill with amendments. The report stage (where further amendments can be made) and a third reading in the House of Commons will follow on a date to be announced. A key part of the Bill relates to how the Office of Environmental Protection (OEP) will become a player in the UK environmental protection and enforcement landscape. 

Related items:

Read others items in Health, Safety and Environment Brief - December 2020