Since 2003, the 28th of April has been proclaimed as a United Nations World Day for Safety and Health at Work, intended to raise awareness of work-related accidents and diseases and ensure that occupational health and safety remain on international and national agendas.
In February, the HSE published the latest available H&S statistics. In the year 2021/22 123 people were killed in work-related accidents in Great Britain (which excludes the figures for N. Ireland), and there were 61,713 injuries to employees which were serious enough to require being reported to the HSE under RIDDOR. There were an additional 1.8 million work-related ill health cases. 36.8 million working days were lost due to work-related illness and workplace injury and the estimated cost (2019-20) to employers of injuries and ill health from working conditions was £18.8 billion.
The pandemic continues to have a significant impact on work-related health, and 708,000 people were reported as either suffering from Covid attributed to workplace exposure, or suffering illness made worse by the pandemic.
Although the numbers are sobering, in fact, the number of serious injuries and fatalities per 100,000 of the working population have been dropping over the years which indicates perhaps that our system of regulation and enforcement is having a positive effect.
By comparison with others in Europe the UK fares well. We have one of the lowest rates of fatal and self-reported work-related injury across Europe and in both categories have lower rates than the EU-27 average (the average of course now excluding the UK). The need for enforcement action by the prosecution in the UK has also correspondingly dropped year on year since 2015.
Surprising then, given that the controls appear to be working – and working better than most of our European neighbours, that Jacob Rees-Mogg MP thought it a good idea to introduce a Bill (the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill 2022) which would scrap all health and safety regulation in the UK by the end of 2023 unless specifically exempted by Ministers who generally, it has to be said, have little understanding of health and safety regulation His enthusiasm for what seems such a patently bad idea brings to mind the bureaucrat in Ghostbusters who in spite of rational argument and evidence to the contrary, insists on shutting down the trap holding back all the ghosts.
The zeal to overturn everything that has derived from Europe forgets that we were part of and in many cases led those reforms to achieve our place as one of the very best performers in health and safety across Europe.
Perhaps Rees-Mogg should take a leaf from the very regulations he seeks to reform and carry out a risk assessment of the implications for health and safety before we become haunted as a nation once again by the spectre of much higher levels of injury, disease, and death in the workplace.