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Mon, 22 July 2024

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The next UK government must ensure health, safety and wellbeing standards are upheld

Peter McGettrick, Chairman

Peter McGettrick, Chairman | British Safety Council

3 min read Partner content

Ahead of July’s General Election, British Safety Council is calling on all political parties to consider how we can best use regulation to make the workplaces of the future healthier, safer, and happier.

In the year when we mark 50 years since the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974), which followed a landmark report by Lord Robens, we are urging policymakers to channel the same ambitious legislative spirit of the Robens generation, committing to making the next 50 years the safest in our nation’s history. 

We know that the Health and Safety at Work Act has been an overwhelming success, seeing the number of annual workplace fatalities drop from 651 deaths in 1974 to 135 in 2023. This trend is replicated in the number of non-fatal workplace injuries, which have dropped by over 80% since 1974. Year on year, workplaces have become safer, with fewer injuries and fewer deaths to the benefit of all.  

That’s why, in our 'Health, Safety and Wellbeing Manifesto', we have called on any future Government not only to maintain our current regulatory standards, but also to commit to seeking continual improvement, ensuring that the UK remains a world leader for health, safety, wellbeing, and employee rights. This is especially important now we have left the EU. 

While regulation is the foundation on which our regime is built, the regulator remains a cornerstone of upholding it. Hand in glove, a strong regulatory footing and a well-armed regulator make workers healthier, safer, and happier. For this reason, we’ve called on policymakers to provide the funding that the Health and Safety Executive needs to face the challenges of the future, head on. This includes the new Building Safety Regulator, as well as local authorities where they hold responsibility for inspection and regulation.  

Only by ensuring that our regulators have the resources and powers that they need to keep workplaces safe, can we ensure that the UK retains its position as a world leader in health, safety, and wellbeing.  

We know that, between 2010 and 2019, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) lost some 45% (in real cash terms) of its operating budget, resulting in a staffing reduction of 35% and a reduction of Health and Safety Inspectors by 18% over the same period.  With fewer staff, stretched resources, and a growing workload we risk rowing back on the good work that’s been done since 1974. This is not a message we can, or want to, send to the world. Resourcing issues become apparent when we look to the number of mandatory HSE investigations that weren’t carried out – up by 387 between 2016/17 and 2021/22 because of resourcing issues increased nearly 200-fold between 2016/17 and 2021/22. 

Prior to 2010, annual inspection totals reported by HSE were more than 25,000. Proactive inspections are currently being delivered at around 16,000 to 17,000 per year, while HSE’s business plan for 2023/24 sets a target to complete just 14,000 – almost half the number being completed in 2010. The concern is that even these reduced targets will become increasingly difficult to achieve. 

A combination of these cuts and external events, such as the pandemic, have created a perfect storm for the country’s health and safety regulators, which only increases the risk to health, safety, and wellbeing of workers.  

Following the UK’s departure from the EU and the Government’s publication of their ‘Smarter Regulation to Grow the Economy’ framework, we call on government to maintain the highest international standards and prioritise regulatory alignment, reducing the burden placed on businesses that trade across multiple legal jurisdictions.  

This commitment will be vital in providing much needed clarity and stability for industry, and more widely, for regulators and for health and safety practitioners. 

Read our full Health, Safety and Wellbeing Manifesto 2024.

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