Since the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, fatal
injury rates for employees have fallen to to a quarter of what they were at the
start of the 1970s.
Yet, despite this comparative success, we cannot be complacent. Each year
some 400 people lose their lives in work-related accidents. Moreover, the fatal
injury rate appears to be stubbornly fixed at its current level.
If further improvements are to be made, we must begin to take account of the
dramatic changes which have taken place in the workplace over the past 25 years
and which are still continuing.
Today, a typical workplace comprises a mix of small contractors,
sub-contractors and employees of the parent company. Effective coordination of
health and safety systems in these circumstances is more problematic.
There has also been a blurring of the traditional definitions of "employer"
and "employee", with more companies relying upon agency workers,
casual labourers, people working from home and volunteers.
An area of continuing concern is the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME)
sector. Research shows that employees in small manufacturing firms are twice as
like to suffer a fatal injury as those in larger companies.
It is possible that further regulation could lead to some improvements, but
in today’s highly competitive global economy it is unlikely that any government
would want to add to the regulatory burden carried by businesses, particularly
those in the SME sector.
The truth is that further significant progress will only be made once
everyone working in business, industry and the public sector start to realise
the benefits which a proactive approach to health and safety can bring.
Put simply, investing in health and safety saves money by cutting costs,
raising efficiency and improving staff morale.
Our goal as we enter the new millennium must be to sell this message to
everyone involved in workplace health and safety.