Over 80% of “wholly avoidable” workplace accidents due to poor planning or lack of risk assessments

According to new research from WorkNest, 200 organisations have faced over £47 million in fines since 2005, for workplace accidents judged to be ‘wholly avoidable’. The findings also reveal that around half (48.5%) of these preventable workplace accidents occurred due to a lack of planning.

To get a clear picture of the causes of the avoidable fines incurred, WorkNest H&S, the Health & Safety support specialists, reviewed 200 health and safety prosecutions (brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)) dating back to 2005, spanning ten different sectors to establish common root causes. WorkNest specifically examined the prosecutions with commentary containing phrases such as “wholly avoidable”, “could have been prevented” and “entirely preventable”. 

Root causes of accidents

Whilst some accidents have multiple contributing factors, the analysis found that the three most common root causes of serious safety incidents in the workplace occur due to a lack of planning (48.5%), a failure to assess risks (32.5%), and a lack of maintenance or proper machine guarding (8%).

Other root causes behind workplace health and safety incidents were found to be due to a failure to plan and segregate vehicles (5%), a lack of training (3.5%), poor supervision (1.5%), and poor management systems (1%).

Examining the root causes of these cases highlights that even in 2022 – nearly 50 years on from the introduction of the HASAWA – many organisations are failing to implement even the Plan and Do phases of Plan, Do, Check, Act. These are the basics of good health and safety management, and the fact that some employers are still not taking these steps is concerning.

Scott Crichton, Principal Health and Safety Consultant at WorkNest H&S, who led the research, commented: “Boards and company leaders across the UK must not accept any more avoidable incidents on their watch. Everyone has a responsibility to ensure that all colleagues return home to their families at the end of the working day. 

“Health and safety policies and procedures don’t always have to be expensive; often, it is about taking reasonable precautions by going back to basics with checks. This makes perfect business sense. As our research shows, not investing in protecting yourself today could cost you a lot more tomorrow if you have an incident that could have been avoided.”

The most used legislation leading to prosecutions

The research revealed that the HSE brought most cases (52.5%) to prosecution under the Health and Safety at Work Act (HASAWA) under Section 2. This places a duty on employers “to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees”. As this is such a broad duty, there is effectively no need for the HSE to rely on more specific legislation – Section 2 of the HSWA is often enough to gain a prosecution.

Secondly, the HSE charged almost a quarter (23%) of cases under the Health and Safety at Work Act under Section 3. This section requires employers to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in their employment, such as customers and contractors, are not exposed to risks to their health or safety. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Section 3 prosecutions were proportionally more prevalent in sectors such as housing, healthcare, local authority, farming and education.

Thirdly, the HSE prosecuted almost one in 10 cases (9.5%) under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regs (PUWER) 1998, further highlighting the lack of safe operation, guarding, maintenance and training to prevent employees from being seriously or fatally injured from machinery.

Top industries for workplace accidents and fines

Regarding the industries involved in ‘wholly avoidable’ workplace accidents, WorkNest’s findings show that manufacturing is the largest sector with 29% of cases, closely followed by construction (including contractors) with 22% of prosecutions. These figures echo the recently released annual HSE work-related fatal injury statistics, that identified construction and manufacturing as particularly dangerous with 30 and 22 fatalities respectively.

However, despite manufacturing being the sector with the most workplace accidents, the construction industry faced higher fines totalling £10.5 million across the cases analysed, compared to manufacturing which faced £10 million. This suggests that the workplace accidents occurring in the construction industry were potentially worse, and therefore, faced higher penalties. Two-fifths (41%) of workplace accidents occurring in the construction industry were prosecuted under Section 2 of the HASAWA, and almost three in 10 (30%) were charged under Section 3 of the HASAWA.

The research also identified other industries that faced a significant number of fines by the HSE for preventable workplace accidents, including transport (fines amounting to £7.2 million), healthcare (£6.1 million), and food & drink (£4.8 million).

Scott Crichton added: “It is simply not acceptable in today’s world that organisations do not give health and safety the same importance as other board risks and invest to ensure they are looking after their employees. It makes good business sense in 2022 for any organisation to implement sound and sensible and reasonable steps to reduce risks. The penalties and after-effects for an organisation from a serious incident, or worse, a fatality is not good for business.”

Author: Editorial Team

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