The transformation of manufacturing through the adoption of advanced production systems and digital technologies is making the sector more efficient and productive,1 but is it also making the industry safer?
The latest Health & Safety Executive (HSE) statistics paint a mixed picture. That is, while the overall rate of self-reported ill health at work in manufacturing settings remained broadly flat over the period 2017 to 2020, RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013) incidents have been on a slight a downward trend:
- 85,000 workers suffered from work-related ill health (new or long- standing) each year (based on an annual average from 2017/18-2019/20).
- There were 15 fatal injuries to manufacturing employees in 2019/20, compared with an average of 20 per year over the preceding four years.
- 66,000 manufacturing workers sustain non-fatal injuries at work each year, a number that has been falling since 2001/02.2
The full breakdown of these incidents, which span trips, slips and accidents, as well as occupational ill-health is available from the HSE.
Manufacturing health and safety incidents: counting the cost
Apart from the human cost of illness, injury or even death at work, health and safety incidents in manufacturing can have serious financial consequences. In fact, according to the HSE, the overall economic cost of workplace injury and new cases of work-related ill health was £16.2 billion in 2018/2019.3
Then there is the risk of HSE enforcement action which can bring unexpected costs and disruption, for instance through the need to comply with improvement notices.4 In serious cases, prosecution may follow, with significant fines for those found guilty of a breach of duty. During 2019/20, the HSE issued 3,161 enforcement notices and brought 93 prosecution cases – 96% of those cases resulted in a guilty verdict with fines totalling £16.1 million, or an average of £181,000 per case.2
Examples of recent prosecutions are not hard to find, and the resulting fines can be significantly higher than the average. For example, a food manufacturer was ordered to pay £1.4 million plus costs of £38,000 in late March 2019 after an employee sustained serious crush injuries on a poultry slaughtering line.5 With another company fined nearly £2m after two employees fell through a fragile roof.6
What’s more, alongside this financial impact, incidents affecting employees can damage a manufacturing firm’s reputation, with longer-term knock-on effects including reduced profit and revenue.7 Equally, a reputation for operating an unsafe working environment could impact on staff recruitment at a time when the sector is already in the grips of a skills shortage.8
Manufacturing is changing: focus on health and safety management
It goes without saying that managing the health and safety risks facing employees is crucial to manufacturing success – and, these days, many firms use health and safety management systems to do just that.
In essence a health and safety management system is a framework of leadership, policies and documentation, training, risk assessment, structured risk management, monitoring and reporting, and is a proven approach to reducing health and safety risk.9 A well designed and implemented system can enable constant improvement based on a thorough understanding of the specific hazards facing a manufacturing business and establish a culture of safety – for instance through management and staff training.
But a health and safety management system can never stand still, particularly as manufacturing transitions to a high tech, Industry 4.0 future.10 That’s because risk exposures change as the organisation changes – whether driven by the adoption of new materials, technologies and processes, diversification, or strategic change.11 Meanwhile, that culture of safety can be eroded over time if management and employees are not regularly re-engaged with risk management, for instance through targeted training.
It is, therefore vital to retain a clear organisational focus on health and safety management, updating systems, policies and training, identifying new or changing risks and taking measurable action to reduce them. Without sufficient checks in place, you not only put you and your business at risk, but you place employees, clients and customers in harm’s way too.
Keep your health and safety management system up to date
Running your business while simultaneously keeping on top of your health and safety obligations can be tough. To give you a helping hand with your duties, our experts have shared a handful of key questions for manufacturing businesses when inspecting their site.
The best way to achieve health and safety training success is to get people fully involved, having fun and learning by doing. Working with the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), we are able to offer:
In addition, we can call on specialists in a wide range of fields to offer risk management solutions in areas spanning health and safety, fire risk assessment, PAT Testing and much more. For further information call our expert team on 0121 224 6810 or request a call back.