The critical importance of protecting people in the workplace is beyond dispute. The majority of organisations make significant financial investments to reduce the risk of accidents and mishaps, and to dynamically monitor the work environment.

Managing risk is just one aspect of health and safety management. Organisations must also foster an embedded safety culture, where everyone has a responsibility for maintaining health and safety.

Protecting the health and safety of staff is not only the morally correct thing, it is also a legal requirement which significantly contributes towards an organisation’s success and sustainability. When businesses ensure optimum conditions in the workplace, it creates a better, safer space for employees and clients to interact and promote wellbeing, productivity and efficiency.

Everyone has a right to work within a safe environment, as highlighted in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The Act requires employers to take steps to protect those who may be affected by their day-to-day business activities. In the workplace, this requirement encompasses a wide range of duties and responsibilities to sustain a secure working environment for employees.

According to the Act, employers are responsible for preventing potential dangers in the workplace in order to mitigate the risk of workplace injury1. While most companies take a best practice approach to health and safety, there is always space for improvement, particularly in terms of how organisations go about embedding the practices into their wider culture.

Common workplace hazards

In the UK, there are a number of common safety hazards in the home and workplace. With a shift towards hybrid working in the three years since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers have had to broaden the scope of risks they consider, as the physical workplace has expanded and lines have blurred between remote and onsite activities.

Health & Safety Executive statistics show that thousands of UK workers are injured or killed yearly as a result of preventable accidents.

Key figures for Great Britain (2021-2022)

  • 1.8 million working people suffer from a work-related illness, of which
    • 914,000 workers are suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety
    • 477,000 workers suffering from a work-related musculoskeletal disorder
  • 2,544 mesothelioma deaths due to past asbestos exposures (2020)
  • 123 workers killed in work-related accidents
  • 565,000 working people sustained an injury at work, according to the Labour Force Survey
  • 36.8 million working days lost due to work-related illness and workplace injury
  • £18.8 billion estimated cost of injuries and ill health from current working conditions (2019-20)
Source: HSE UK

When organisations pay insufficient attention to the risks their employees are facing, it can result in accidents, illnesses, and even fatalities. Currently in the UK, slips, trips and falls are the most common cause of accidents at work, which account for over 30% of all reported non-fatal injuries2.

This is followed by accidents relating to handling, lifting and carrying (18%), and being struck by a moving object (11%). Manual lifting, carrying, or handling objects/machinery are prime causes of back injuries, sprains or severe bone breakage.

Between 2019 and 2022, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) reported that there were 42,000 work-related injuries and illnesses in the construction industry alone4. Falling from heights accounts for 26% of occupational fatalities (mostly from ladders)5.

When laws and rules are violated, prosecutions may follow. There has been a significant rise in proactive investigations as pointed by HSE – from 14,880 in 2020–21 to 16,900 in 2021–22.

Some recent prosecutions for less diligence at workplace include:

  • Equipment and Machinery: In recent news, a glass distribution and installation company has been fined £200,000 after an employee broke two ribs and fractured his vertebra after being crushed by a crate.
  • Fire and Explosion: Breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act, a major gas supplier was fined £5m over a fatal fire and gas explosion at a care home property taking the life of the homeowner.
  • Inadequate training: A lack of instruction and training of handling machinery caused an employee to suffer from head and chest injuries after being hit by a 1.5-tonne milling machine.

How to manage workplace health and safety?

Legal workplace protections must go hand-in-hand with effective enforcement of the law and rules, ensuring these are part of a broader ‘safety culture’ within the organisation.

Fostering a proactive culture is the product of individual and group attitudes, perceptions, values, competencies and patterns of behaviour with respect to workplace health and safety. This encompasses attitudes towards mental health and wellbeing in addition to physical health and safety .

Workplace environments are not static and hence organisations must assess health and safety risks on a dynamic and ongoing basis. This involves conducting regular risk assessments to identify potential hazards and dangers and implementing appropriate control measures.

Such an approach applies the continuous improvement methodology of a Plan, Do, Check and Act approach:

  • Plan: To ensure that tasks comply with health and safety regulations, employers must assign work to skilled individuals and prioritise risk-based changes. Additionally, businesses should prepare for significant occurrences, such as major injuries, explosions, floods, etc.
  • Do: This is an essential stage. Businesses must safeguard vulnerable workers by giving them adequate knowledge, training, and supervision in order to maintain a healthy workplace. Employers must provide first aid supplies, qualified medical professionals and rapid medical treatment when needed. Additionally, as per RIDDOR requirements, any and all circumstances that threat to compromise occupational health and safety must be reported.
  • Check: Continuous monitoring of the health and safety strategy that has been implemented is the next step. This comprises routine workplace inspections, surveillance to identify potential dangerous situations or substances, refresher training, and accident or near-accident investigations. In particular, organisations need to keep abreast of the changing risk environment as their workplace changes and evolves. Investigations into incidents can help to improve health and safety risk management, enhancing control mechanisms and preventing issues reoccurring.
  • Act: This involves regularly reviewing employers' health and safety performance. It emphasises revisiting and updating the health and safety policy if there are changes to the workplace or workplace processes, as and when improvements are needed, incorporating lessons learned from accidents or near misses.

By completing this review cycle, businesses can implement a culture of continuous improvement, adhering to standards that promote a safe environment in the workplace, and laying the groundwork for a practical safety culture within the organisation. The benefits are multiple and include:

  • a happier, safer and more engaged workforce
  • reduction in compensation and insurance costs
  • enhanced employee motivation to observe safety protocols
  • reduced downtime due to safety incidents

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To speak with a member of our friendly risk management team about any of the content in this article or how we can help you with your health and safety requirements, call 0800 138 7538.