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Health and safety 2020 forecast

  • United Kingdom
  • Health and safety
  • Industrials


HSE’s Business plan

With major structural changes to the UK economy expected post Brexit, now is a time for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to reflect on its business plan and the associated implications.  The HSE will be keen to develop its initiatives of 2019 to ensure that its 61 deliverables “to improve workplace health and safety” are actioned before the end of 2020.  

Tackling work-related ill health

A continued focus for the HSE in 2020 is its ‘Go Home Healthy’ initiative to tackle the three major causes of work-related ill health:– musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), occupational lung disease (OLD) and work-related stress (WRS). And there is good reason for this, as in 2018 it was reported that 1.4 million workers were affected by work-related ill health.[1] Stress, anxiety and depression have been the leading cause of work-related illness, with their undesirable lead increasing each year.

Musculoskeletal disorders

The HSE will continue with its programme of inspections with particular emphasis on the manufacturing sector; and any repetitive tasks which can cause MSDs.  In the latter part of the year the HSE has stated it shall shift focus to the transport and logistics sector to consider manual handling techniques and fatigue assessments. Objectives have been set for the number of visits within these sectors.[2]

Organisations are encouraged to review machinery and equipment and the associated operating processes to reconsider the risks arising from activities which can cause ill-health. Changes to automated processes where possible, changing workstation layouts or introducing a shift rotation may all assist in minimising the risk of MSDs occurring. The HSE in a recent e-bulletin have invited businesses to share innovative work practices which have tackled MSDs. 

The HSE has accounted it will shortly be introducing an updated version of its guide to manual handling to better match current working practices and to provide additional advice to identify low-risk tasks. This is in line with the government initiative ‘Advancing our Health: prevention in the 2020s’ where the Department of Health and Social Care is preparing a strategy to prevent a wide range of health issues, in particular MSDs arising from manual handling in the workplace. 


Additionally, those organisations whose operations create exposure to asthmagens will be subject to a similar inspection regime with focus on woodworking, bakeries and fabricated metals. It is advisable for such businesses to revisit these risks and ensure any LEV equipment is within its annual inspection frequency.

Work related stress

In the last 18 months we have seen a substantial shift within the industry towards a more comprehensive approach to wellbeing that goes beyond physical health. The HSE has focused its attention to developing a toolkit and management standards for businesses to use in the assessment of WRS. Indeed, in its business plan the HSE has also outlined its internal objectives in this regard. Businesses are recommended to apply these standards alongside the principles in HSG 65 of the ‘plan, do, check act’ approach to ensure a suitable system is in place to effectively manage WRS. The HSE has recently indicated it will now look to use its full enforcement powers, including prosecution, in cases where employers are failing to act on stress issues, although there are limited criteria where the HSE will investigate[3].

HSE interventions and targeted inspection regime. Beware!

When investigating an incident the HSE is now seeking to undertake site inspections which are separate to the ongoing investigation to sample how a business is managing health and safety.  We are seeing that these inspections focus on two occupational health topics and two safety topics and include a site walk round and consideration of documentation. In the next 12 months we are likely to see a roll out of these inspections and central intervention reviews.

In addition, the HSE is undertaking intervention meetings and scoping inspections when RIDDOR trends within an organisation are determined.  It is important for businesses to identify and review incident trends against systems and procedures in advance and to enhance and update guidance and instruction where required and before there is a knock the door!

Brexit date approaching!

Brexit uncertainty has dominated the headlines for some time now – with many of us feeling brexausted! Now the Brexit bill has passed its final hurdle in Parliament and the date for the UK to leave the EU is set for 31 January 2020; businesses are advised to plan for a no-deal scenario and the potential impact this could have on safety, health and environment legislation.

The HSE has advised that all businesses should “continue to manage risk in your business in a proportionate way.” The duties to protect the health and safety of people affected by your work will not change with Brexit.

The HSE will contribute to government-wide activities connected to the UK’s departure. This is likely to involve the transfer of EU directives and legislation into UK statute, which undoubtedly affects the allocation of its resources. Despite these changing times organisations will continue to be governed by the 46 year old Health and Safety at Work etc Act. So little change here. However, organisations in the wake of Brexit will need to establish a strategy to protect supply chains and the free movement of workers[4] to ensure ‘it’s business as usual.’ Additionally, those businesses registered with REACH will no doubt be aware of the issues relating to REACH regulation and the proposed successor regime.

UKCA / CE Marking

CE marking accreditation will also be affected. The government intends to reclassify UK notified bodies as UK ‘approved bodies’ which will be eligible to assess products for the EU market and issue a new UK Conformity Assessed (UKCA) mark to compliant products. In the majority of cases you will still be able to use the CE marking if you are selling goods on the UK market after the UK leaves the EU. However the CE marking will only be accepted in the UK for a limited time after Brexit. Businesses should note that the UKCA marking will not be recognised on the EU market, and products currently requiring a CE marking will also need a CE marking for sale in the EU. [5]


Businesses who rely on Driver Certificates of Professional Competence (CPC) will need to review their training programmes in the absence of a no-deal Brexit to ensure that cross-firm assessments are completed. This will minimise disruptions and ensure scheduled journeys can continue to the EU. Further guidance can be found here.

Automotive safety law is an area of increasing focus as the public and media are challenging the industry, vehicle operators and regulators to up their game. Catastrophic failures of old tyres have gained an increase in media coverage since 2013. It is anticipated in the forthcoming months that the Department for Transport will introduce regulations that the use of old tyres, 10 years and older, on heavy good vehicles, trailers, buses, coaches and minibuses will be banned. Non-compliance with the regulations will provide a basis for the Traffic Commissioner to intervene and take regulatory action. Further information on this initiative can be found here.

Reform of the building safety system

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry will reconvene shortly to complete phase 2 which will examine the circumstances and causes of the disaster. Following conclusion of the inquiry a final report will be published which will shape the landscape of building safety systems, fire safety regulation and enforcement. The HSE which is a member of the industry response group will support the government’s fundamental reform of the building safety system.

Age of the Robots

2019 has seen the continued growth of VR in health and safety training and AR as a workplace tool. There has also been a big interest in robots in 2019, and this is likely to grow in 2020. Robots are being adopted in construction, agriculture, warehousing and logistics; technology has improved productivity for all businesses.

Organisations are encouraged to explore advancements in technology hand in hand with risk evaluation; although to balance this with potential increases in lone workers where fully automated systems are introduced.

Too many hats not enough heads!

A continued trend for 2020 is that safety professionals will wear many ‘hats’. With streamlining and downsizing increasingly common, and workplaces rapidly evolving, the days of specialisation in a single category have become a thing of the past.  Instead, safety professionals are now tasked with multiple responsibilities.

Food allergens

The UK government has recently introduced new legislation to make “food labels clear and consistent and given the country’s two million food allergy sufferers confidence in making safe food choices”. The new legislation will be effective from October 2021 and requires food business operators (“FBOs”) to include full ingredient and allergen labelling on products that would have previously fallen into the pre-packaged for direct sale (“PPDS”) exemption. A key issue with the new legislation is that it fails to define the term PPDS, so it is unclear which products it will cover. The legislation is likely to have a significant impact upon FBOs which will now be forced to fully label products prepared and packed on the same premises from which they are sold. Many FBOs will be unable to afford the additional labelling costs which could lead to fewer products being offered for sale.

The introduction of this new legislation is likely to add to the ever-growing number of allergen cases being brought against FBOs. Whilst we partially attribute this upsurge in cases to the growing prevalence of allergies within the population (particularly over the past 5 years), it is clear that this area is a major focus for local authorities and therefore it is important that FBOs fully understand and comply with their legal duties.  For more information on food safety related matters please contact food safety lawyer Natascha Gaut.

Further information

For further information please contact Partner Paul Verrico, Senior Associate Sarah Valentine or visit our website.  

Eversheds Sutherlands’ EHS team is ranked in band one in the legal directories and is trusted by many of the world’s largest companies. We have an international team of health and safety lawyers and can provide the security of a complete corporate defence, whatever the circumstances.   We have considerable experience in advising clients across all sectors in relation to criminal investigations and prosecutions brought by regulators, including the Health and Safety Executive, Local Authorities and the police, following serious and fatal workplace accidents.

[1]                 WLS is the most commonly reported cause at 44% with MSDs following closely behind at 35%. This is in addition, to the 12,000 deaths per year from OLD and cancer.

[2]                 Woodworking – approximately 1 in 10 premises; food and drink 1 in 5 premises and fabricated metals 1 in 15 premises.


[4] EU settlement scheme – information to be found here.

[5] Check whether you will need to use the UKCA marking by reading the guidance on placing manufactured goods on the UK market after Brexit.