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April 23, 2014

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Is the ‘health and safety time bomb’ ticking?


Claire Rizos, Clarity Safety Solutions

What do you think the future holds for health and safety? Is there likely to be a further reduction in the accident rate?

It’s impossible to know of course, but the question is an interesting one. It sparks further questions too — does the question refer to UK statistics only? What about the global outlook? What’s the future for ill health statistics?

Recently in her blog, Judith Hackitt pointed out that a reduction in accidents is normal during a recession and that an increase, is unfortunately the norm, as a country emerges into improved economic conditions. She points to a lack of recruitment of inexperienced workers during a downturn. Less experienced staff are three times more likely to be killed or injured at work than colleagues who have been there for a year or more, so when there are few new recruits the accident rate declines.

Perhaps we are already seeing the effects, with statistics from parts of Ireland appearing to show a jump in fatalities. And Baroness Donaghy quoted in the Guardian – a safety “time bomb” awaits, she says, and that deaths in the London construction boom are an indication of worse to come — are these a measure of the increase in construction works as well as the recruitment of unskilled workers.

But looking forward to the medium term, what will happen. With Fee for Intervention beginning to plug the hole in the HSE’s finances? Will the number of inspectors increase sufficiently to have an impact? And will the move towards industry led improvement in high risk sectors such as waste and construction, lead to accident reductions — perhaps more so than would have been achieved by enforcement alone? The optimist would certainly say so.

And further afield? Well we’ve seen a new outcry about poor standards in Qatar and Brazil. There does seem to have been a shift change — a casual attitude to lives is no longer an acceptable side of sporting preparations. If there are safety gains to be made, there are rich pickings to be made, outside of the UK in the short to medium term.

And what about health? Poor old occupational health, still side-lined. If we look back in a few decades time will we be left wondering why on earth we put all our effort into such a small number of deaths and serious injuries, whilst turning a blind eye to the cause of 99% of work related deaths – occupational disease? As safety professionals working in the UK it’s time to take occupational health out of the ‘too difficult to deal with’ pile and get stuck in.

Personally I hope that what’s next for health and safety is: the expected spike in accidents to be contained over the next few years; the best bits of safety in the UK to spread across the globe; and the health of the working population to make a step change improvement. What are the chances?


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