2023 HSE target areas – do your safety controls measure up?

Every year, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) releases guidance for local authority and HSE inspectors to plan and prioritise their interventions. These target areas set the safety agenda for the year ahead and can trigger an increase in inspections. 

Our last newsletter shared how to deal with an unexpected visit from your regulator – but prevention is always better than cure. We’ve outlined the top H&S hotspots inspectors will look for in 2023/24 and proven ways to prevent incidents across your builders merchant. 

1. Falls from height 

Work at height is the biggest workplace killer, accounting for 23% of all fatal injuries recorded in the UK during 2021/22. Builders merchants should aim to avoid work from height altogether, opting for as much work as possible to take place on the ground.

If that’s not possible, introduce suitable, stable equipment to minimise falling risks, such as aircraft steps. A comprehensive risk assessment should also ensure your workers: 

  • Can get safely to and from where they work at height.
  • Are not overloaded or overreaching when working at height.
  • Are protected from falling objects. 
  • Take precautions when working on or near fragile surfaces. 
  • Are trained on equipment use.

2. Respirable silica dust 

Cutting common construction materials like brick, concrete and tile can generate dust containing harmful respirable crystalline silica (RCS). It’s included on inspectors’ target lists because prolonged exposure to RCS can lead to serious respiratory diseases and lung cancer. While the merchant sector won’t be a key target on the basis of silica dust, inspectors will always look for wood dust hazards within merchants with cutting equipment. As such, the following measures are of importance:

  • Installing Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) system. 
  • Banning dry sweeping of wood dust. 
  • Providing masks if clearing up split cement bags on dry days, when dust can form. 
  • Providing HEPA filter or M Class vacuums to clear dust in areas that can’t be reached by LEV extensions.
  • Providing appropriate PPE, such as face-fitted FFP3 masks and gloves.
  • Considering occupational health lung function testing (Spirometry) or air monitoring to determine exact exposure levels. 

3. Moving and handling materials

Your local authority inspector will also be looking for poor handling of materials. It’s essential to assess specific manual handling risks across your builder's merchant and implement controls accordingly. However, following general best practices can minimise the hazards of lifting and moving loads:

  • Carrying out risk assessments to pinpoint manual handling tasks, with the aim of reducing hazards or eliminating the need altogether.  
  • Lessening the physical toll on employees by using mechanical aids and equipment, including forklifts, pallet trucks and trolleys. 
  • Providing handling and lifting aids to prevent injury, such as lifting straps, handles or grips. These tools ensure better grip, control and stability when manoeuvring items. 
  • Safely storing stock and materials reduces the need for manual handling. To avoid bending and reaching, keep frequently used objects at waist height and secure materials to prevent injuries from falling items.
  • Training your team on correct manual handling techniques highlights and reduces the risks of lifting and carrying loads. 

4. Welfare provision for delivery drivers

If you regularly receive deliveries, you need to provide suitable facilities for visiting drivers. Inspectors will zero in on safety, cleanliness and hygiene, so ensure you make available an onsite toilet, hand-washing facilities and a secure rest area that’s clear of workplace transport hazards. 

5. Work-related road safety

Driving for work presents serious safety risks, so you’re legally bound to keep your employees safe on the road. When implementing road safety measures, the HSE advises considering key factors, including vehicle condition, time pressures, weather events, distractions and tiredness. Other crucial priorities include: 

  • Offering driver training covering defensive driving techniques, road safety rules and strategies for handling different driving conditions. 
  • Performing regular vehicle checks to assess the condition and function of brakes, tyres, lights and other vital components. 
  • Planning routes in advance to avoid driver fatigue, prolonged journeys and time pressures. Take into account traffic conditions, rest breaks and speed limits.
  • Securing materials and adhering to weight limits to ensure deliveries are stable, properly loaded and compliant with load distribution regulations. 
  • Training drivers to handle and report emergencies and equipping delivery vehicles with vital equipment like first aid kits, warning triangles, cones, fire extinguishers and roadside assistance tools. 

We’ve helped hundreds of builders merchants shape practical safety plans in line with HSE priorities. To discuss how to raise standards across your business, talk to our experienced team. We’re here to help on 0330 043 4015 or