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Fortunately, workplace fatal injuries in the UK are rare. Latest figures (provisional) published by the Health and Safety Executive show a total of 144 fatalities reported under RIDDOR in 2017-18 and an overall fatal injury rate of just 0.51 per 100,000 employees compared with an EU average of 1.29. Whilst this might seem high, in statistical terms the number of workplace fatal injuries has remained broadly level in recent years with a five-year average of 141, representing an estimated reduction of 85% since the mid 1970’s.

Although the manufacturing sector is one of the best performers in terms of injury rates, the nature of operations and numbers employed mean that in absolute terms the sector has had some of the highest figures for fatal and non-fatal injuries from exposure to fire or explosion over the same period.

Since 2002, the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations have set out the legal (minimum) requirements for protection of workers and others potentially at risk from activities involving substances that could cause a safety risk from fire, explosion or release of energy if not properly managed and controlled. This includes substances found in many workplaces such as solvents, paints and flammable gases; dusts from sanding, machining, sawing or foodstuffs; pressurised gases; and substances corrosive to metal. Under the Regulations, employers must understand the properties of the materials being handled, what can go wrong, and the equipment, systems and procedures needed to maintain safe operation.

Businesses in the hazardous process industries have become accustomed to DSEAR and similar risk-based goal setting legislation over the years. Support has also been forthcoming from the trade bodies, which have been keen to promote sharing of information and best practice. For example, the Chemical Industries Association and Chemical Business Association both run regular workshops and training programmes to build awareness and understanding within member and non-member companies. In practice, however, it tends to be the larger companies that participate most.

In an effort to reach out to employers of all sizes across all sectors, the HSE has published information and guidance in varying degrees of detail but despite this many are still failing to identify the risks and put suitable measures in place. So far this year, the HSE has issued enforcement notices in relation to 134 breaches[1] under DSEAR, and the evidence suggests that it is the smaller businesses that appear to be struggling most of all, where presumably lack of resources might make it more difficult to access and digest information and guidance, whether freely available or not.

Small businesses in context

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) as defined by the European Commission represent 99% of all businesses in the EU.  Latest figures for UK business population estimates,  published by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, show a similar spread with the number of businesses, excluding the self-employed, estimated to be 1,389,285, 99.5% of which are SMEs (fewer than 250 employees), and 97% of which are small or microbusinesses employing fewer than 50 or 10 people respectively.

Figures published in a Chemicals Sector Report for the House of Commons Committee on Exiting the European Union show a similar pattern with an estimated 2,500 SMEs and microbusinesses making up 97% of businesses in the sector overall, which  employs an estimated 99,000 people directly. The report also recognises that the sector is highly competitive, has very high operating costs (energy and compliance), has difficulty in attracting investment from global parent companies, and is suffering from skills shortages.  It’s not surprising then that businesses in this sector, especially small and microbusinesses, are finding it increasingly difficult to devote the time needed to keep abreast of changes in legislation, trawl through guidance, and work out what must be done to comply.

Building awareness online

Recognising the need to help those in smaller organisations understand what they need to know, we are now providing clients with access to e-learning materials, to help them build awareness and test understanding using interactive modules within a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). Materials can be accessed using laptops, tablets and mobile phones, so that learning can take place anywhere, any time.

The VLE is used to support a blended learning experience, using other tools, including blogs and messaging facilities, to make it easier for learners to pose questions to our trainers (practitioners) and each other, and share experiences so that they become part of an online learning community.

For more guidance on compliance with DSEAR, and for details on the specific areas in which we can help, please click here.

We also regularly run in-house and open training events focussing on practical application of standards and guidance for compliance with DSEAR. Click here for more information on these.

 

1HSE’s public register of enforcement notices to 14/09/18 lists 134 breaches in 2018 (136 and 161 for the same period in 2017 and 2016).