The Real Impact of Health and Safety at Work


There has been a lot of discussion about the volume of Health and Safety laws and regulations which the UK has in place to protect employees and whether the 'red tape' is really necessary. Workers Memorial Day seeks to remember those who have been killed whilst at work, whilst fighting to protect employees in their jobs.

Safety Gear for the work place

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) 148 workers were killed at work in the UK in 2012/2013, which is still 148 too many. Whilst some of these may be accidents which could not have been foreseen or prevented, a large number of deaths and injuries could be prevented by employers taking reasonable steps as required to protect the health and safety of their employees.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 was the first major piece of legislation to provide protection to employees at work. This places a wealth of responsibilities on employers to provide safe systems of work, to provide safe plant and equipment, to carry out risk assessments and to take steps to ensure that their employees are safewhilst carrying out their duties.

This piece of legislation paved the way for the “Six Pack” regulations (you can decide why they're called that!) which followed in 1992, namely:

  • Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations
  • Manual Handling Operations Regulations
  • The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations
  • Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations
  • Personal Protective Equipment Regulations
  • The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations

Does it Have an Impact

Further Statistics from the HSE show that the Health and Safety law that we have in place makes a real difference to employees at work.

  • Between 1974 and 2013, fatal injuries at work have fallen by 85% and non-fatal reported injuries have fallen by 77%
  • Despite this, in 2012/2013, 148 workers were killed whilst at work, and a further 78,000 accidents at work were recorded under RIDDOR. In addition to these figures, 1.1 million people suffered from a work related illness.

The improvement and impact is clear when we compare the figures from 1974 or earlier, to the figures in place today and goes to show that Health and Safety is not just there to get in the way.

Whilst cutting corners may save costs or reduce time, the impact on employees, and the families of those who are injured or killed, surely makes complying with the legislation and ensuring the safety of workers a much higher priority.

Today’s Health and Safety Reforms

The Government and businesses are concerned at the amount of red tape surrounding current health and safety laws and the cost implications, particularly to smaller, low risk-businesses of implementing the rules. The government commissioned a review into Health and Safety laws in 2011, to deal with the “red tape”, costs of compliance and the so-called compensation culture in relation to claiming for accidents at work.

Red tape has become a dirty word, and the government is looking at reducing the amount of health and safety regulation that smaller businesses have to adhere to. On the face of it, that can sound like a very good thing.

However, part of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 means that accident at work claims regarding a breach of the “six pack” regulations will not be actionable, and anyone injured in an accident at work will have to prove that their employer was negligent. This was not the case for accidents occurring prior to 1st October 2013. A breach of those regulations would not be sufficient.

Whilst it may be the case that consolidation of health and safety legislation would have a positive impact on businesses, it is important that the protection offered by the regulations is not watered down, putting us back in a situation where people’s lives are put at risk simply by going to work. The statistics show the drop in work related deaths but a priority should be reducing these numbers to 0 as opposed to taking steps which could see the numbers increasing.

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