HSE overlooking serious workplace accidents due to lack of resources

  • Health & Safety
Two construction workers (one man, one woman) wearing high-vis jackets and helmets looking at a tablet.
Kate Palmer FCIPD - Director of HR Advice and Consultancy at global employment law consultancy, Peninsula.

Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director

(Last updated )

Employers are increasingly unlikely to be punished after workplace accidents, as figures have shown the number of investigations dropped by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has soared.

Trade union Prospect compiled figures showing 389 ‘mandatory investigations’ were not undertaken in the 2021-22 period, due to a lack of resources. This contrasts sharply with just 2 dropped investigations in 2016-17.

Mandatory investigations are triggered when a work-related accident is reported that results in a person’s death, or injuries such as permanent blindness or serious multiple fractures.

HSE specify five reasons why an incident like this would not be investigated, including where it is “impractical” due to missing key evidence, where there is no reasonable way to avoid a recurrence, or due to “inadequate resources”.

Prospect reported that severe funding cuts and a drop in staff numbers at HSE contributed significantly to depleting their resources to investigate accidents. They said HSE had struggled to recruit and retain key positions like inspectors, policy officials and scientific staff.

They added that many senior HSE staff were seriously concerned that the organisation has “shrunk below the critical mass to be an effective regulator”.

Staffing levels have nearly halved, from 4,200 staff in 2003 to 2,400 in 2022. Government funding has also fallen more than 44%, from £228m in 2010 to £126m in 2019.

HSE does operate a fee for intervention (FFI) scheme, which has contributed to their cost recovery. They also recoup fees from successful prosecution. Last year, they recovered £90m in additional funding from these sources.

A spokesperson for HSE said: “We generate a substantial income on top of our government funding, which helps pay for our regulatory work. Our staffing levels have changed as our responsibilities have changed. We are currently seeing significant recruitment into HSE.”

Mike Clancy, General Secretary at Prospect, said the number of investigations dropped “should worry anyone who values safety at work.” He added:

“The bottom line is that if effective investigations cannot be carried out, then those who are at fault for an accident may get away with it, depriving victims of justice and making workplaces less safe.”

Angela Rayner, Deputy Leader of the Labour party and shadow secretary for the future of work, said legal workplace protections “must go hand in hand with effective enforcement of the rules” and were sensible for workers and businesses.

She added: “13 years of failed Conservative government has left the UK’s health and safety enforcement regime badly overstretched, and that is putting working people at risk.”

The HSE spokesperson said it had an “excellent reputation, shown by our growing responsibilities, which include post-Brexit chemical regulations and the creation of the new building safety regulator”.

They also pointed to a recent rise in proactive investigations – from 14,880 in 2020-21 to 16,900 in 2021-22.

For answers to your questions on accidents at work, visit BrAInbox today where you can find answers to questions like When is an accident RIDDOR reportable?

Read more from the latest BrAInbox Business News update:





Related articles

  • worker in high vis jacket


    Can my employee refuse to work in hot weather?

    It’s the time of year when you might need to crank up the aircon, but can your staff actually refuse to work if the hot weather gets too much? Read on to learn how to manage your hot weather risks and prevent losing business when temperatures rise…

    Gavin Scarr HallDirector of Health and Safety
    • Health & Safety
  • woman sat a desk looking at laptop with headset on


    Five home working considerations most employers forget

    Remote working… Chances are, your staff love the flexibility and extra time it gives them. But there’s also a chance your employee’s remote working situation puts them at risk. And when your staff face risk, so do you: in the form of HSE fines or grievances…

    Gavin Scarr HallDirector of Health and Safety
    • Health & Safety
  • Working during the summer


    Peninsula GroupHR and Health & Safety Experts
    • Health & Safety
Back to resource hub

Try Brainbox for free today

When AI meets 40 years of Peninsula expertise... you get instant, expert answers to your HR and health & safety questions

Sign up to our newsletter

Get the latest news & tips that matter most to your business in our monthly newsletter.

International sites

© 2023 Peninsula Business Services Limited. Registered Office: The Peninsula, Victoria Place, Manchester, M4 4FB. Registered in England and Wales No: 1702759. Peninsula Business Services Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority for the sale of non-investment insurance contracts.

ISO 27001 and 9001 accredited company.
The Sunday Times - Top Track 250.
Glassdoor 2018 Best Places To Work.