Management and Governance of Occupational Health and Safety in Five Countries: NOHSAC Technical Report 8
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2. United Kingdom
- The United Kingdom (UK) is a constitutional monarchy and political union, and is a
full member of the European Union (EU) but has opted out of the Economic and Monetary
Union (the euro) for the time being. The total area is 244,820 square kilometres (sq km),
of which 241,590 sq km are land. About 23% of the total land area is classified as
- The current population estimate is 60.6 million. The current annual growth rate is
0.5%. Part of this is due to a natural increase (with a birth rate of 10.71 births/1,000
population), but net migration into the UK has been an increasingly important factor. The
UK has an ageing population.
- The UK is a highly developed country, with the fifth largest economy in the world
and second largest in Europe after Germany. The British economy is estimated at $NZ3.3
trillion. Gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is $NZ45,263. The GDP real growth rate
is 1.9%. The inflation rate in 2006 was 2.1%. Public debt is 43.1% of GDP.
- The labour force is 30.1 million, the employment rate is 74.6%, the unemployment
rate is 5.5% and the economic inactivity rate is 20.9%.
- Overall life expectancy continues to improve in the UK, with women living longer
than men. Boys and girls born in 2004 could expect, on average, to live to 77 and 81 years
of age respectively. While the UK population has been living longer over the past 20
years, the extra years have not necessarily been lived in good health. In 2001, the
expected time lived in poor health for males was 8.7 years, and 11.6 years for females.
The UK population contains sizeable ethnic minorities.
- The Department of Health conducts an annual Health Survey for England. Results for
2005 indicated no significant change in the proportion of adults who were overweight,
although there was a marked increase in the proportion who were obese. Leading causes of
death for males are approximately 39.5% due to circulatory diseases (including ischaemic
heart disease and cerebrovascular diseases) and about 28% from malignant neoplasms. For
females, the rates are about 39% and 24% respectively.
- The vast majority of healthcare in the UK is delivered free to the user at the
point of care by the National Health Service. Health expenditure in 2005 was $NZ242
billion. It is estimated that about two-thirds of health spending goes on people over 60.
- Work-related health measures (including surveys and surveillance systems) indicate
that about 4% of current cancer deaths are due to past exposures at work. According to
self-report surveys, about two million people (6.6% of the current workforce) experience
ill health or injury that they think is work-related (caused or made worse by their
current or past work). About 61% of these instances are ill health, and the rest are
injuries. The classification of problems into “health” rather than
“injury” may be encouraged by the provision of free healthcare and
self-certified sick pay. Ill health accounts for about 80% of working days lost.
Approximately 40% of these are attributed to musculoskeletal disorders, and 45% to minor
mental health problems including stress and depression.
- Fatal occupational injuries have decreased over the last decade. In 2006, the rate
was 0.71 deaths per 100,000 workers. In 2003, the most recent year for which comparable
data are available, the rate of fatal injury to workers in Great Britain was the lowest of
European member states.
- The Health and Safety Commission (HSC) is responsible for OSH policy in the UK.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local government are the enforcing authorities
that work in support of HSC. The HSE acts as the UK Focal Point of the European Agency for
Safety and Health at Work.
- The basis of UK health and safety law is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
OSH policies are derived from a mixture of international policy and agreements, EU
directives and regulations, and legislation at both devolved national parliamentary and UK
levels. There is a complex web of institutions and authorities in the UK responsible for
health and safety. The current workforce of the HSE is approximately 4,000. Health and
safety law in the UK is enforced by inspectors from the HSE or by inspectors from a local
authority. The total HSE budget was $NZ613.3 million in 2003/04.
- The Office for National Statistics is the government department that coordinates
much of the work of the Government Statistical Service (GSS). The GSS provides the UK with
most of its official statistics. The GSS has no formal basis in law.
- The HSE conducts research in the Health and Safety Laboratory and commissions a
diverse range of external research projects.
- There are two systems of workplace compensation available to a worker in the UK.
One is the social security benefit system administered by the Department for Work and
Pensions, and the second is the employers’ liability insurance. Employers’
liability insurance (for a minimum of $NZ14.3 million) is compulsory, enabling employers
to meet the cost of employees’ injuries or illnesses, whether they are caused on or
off site. Injuries or illnesses relating to motor accidents that occur while employees are
working are usually covered separately by motor insurance. State benefits do not involve
fault being established. By contrast, employers’ liability insurance requires the
courts to establish the negligence of an employer. This is done through actual or
threatened litigation. Employees in the UK who are injured or made ill at work are
entitled to sue their employer for compensation in the civil courts within a three-year
period. The UK is considered to be a highly litigious society.
- The HSC is responsible for establishing national OSH strategies. The HSE and local
authorities are responsible for implementing these as programmes and delivering the
desired outcomes. The HSC and HSE are required to conduct public consultations.
- UK health and safety law is based on the principle of risk assessment. The HSC and
HSE use OSH policy, risk assessment using hazard identification, investigation and
enforcement inspections, and strategic programmes.
- The HSC and HSE work toward specific goals and targets, as part of their
government-approved business plans. These goals are meaningful and emphasise reductions in
working days lost, incidence of work-related health problems and incidence of fatal and
major injury incidents.
- The HSC and HSE are directly responsible for evaluating their own policies,
strategic plans, enforcement systems and other activities. They publish these reviews,
which are conducted both internally and by external parties.
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