Human Factors in Health and Safety

The HSE model within HSG48 Human factors in safety gives three factors which may impact on human behaviour. These could contribute to mistakes, violations and accidents or equally reduce the likelihood of human failure resulting in an injury or accident.

Organisational factors such as the quality of the H&S leadership, having a proactive H&S approach and ensuring that resources are allocated according to need and risk level can reduce the risks.

Task factors which can have an impact include ergonomics, work equipment design, the working environment and whether the procedures and systems in place are actually workable.

Lastly but most importantly we need to recognise that individual personal factors will always play a part in health and safety standards. Everyone is different. Some people are more different than others! Putting this aside even the most highly trained, skills and motivated workers can still make mistakes. Human error is inevitable.

Quite small personal factors, whether work or non work related can make a difference. If someone leaves home aware of the financial stresses they are under, having slept poorly they are clearly not going to be at their best.

I heard a new concept explained by Professor Tim Marsh really valid suggesting that in a typical hour most people can work safely for 55 minutes—but they may have 5 minutes where they are distracted, tired or just not concentrating.

This could be workers who are normally really focused. But the human mind and body do get tired and can be distracted. Rather than just focus on stopping accident and errors in these five minutes, the rationale is to focus on doing things during the 55 minutes of focus which will ensure even in the five minutes of distraction accidents do not occur.

A simple example would be to keep the workplace tidy and free reconstructions as you work—then there will not be anything there in the work area to trip over in the five minutes where the employee is focusing elsewhere.


The menopause is a natural stage of life that millions of female workers are either experiencing now or will go through in the future. There are around 4.3 million women over the age of 50 currently working in Britain and consequently an increasing number of women of menopausal age are working in the UK. Many women workers leave their jobs through lack of support during this difficult period in their lives. Positively managing the menopause at work can help employers to retain valued staff.

It is important to note that while this article predominantly talks about women in relation to the menopause, it is also recognised and appreciated that the menopause can impact trans and non-binary people who don’t identify as women in the same manner. Menopause can be experienced by trans masculine presenting individuals, and non-binary identified people may retain female anatomical features at this stage of their lives. They require the same support, flexibility and dignity in the workplace as others with similar symptoms.

The Menopause and the Workplace report by the Fawcett Society and Channel 4, which polled 4000 women aged 45–55, found that 10% had left their job because of symptoms of the menopause. This was interpreted as to 333,000 women across the UK leaving work as a consequence of menopause.

A survey of 2000 employees and 500 business owners by Benenden Health found 23% of women who have been unwell as a result of the menopause have left jobs.


The menopause is marked by changes in hormones and the end of menstruation (when a woman’s periods stop for 12 consecutive months). For most women the menopause occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, although a minority of women can experience it in their 30s or earlier. The symptoms can last from four to eight years.

While some women experience almost no symptoms, the majority do experience significant changes, such as hot flushes, palpitations, night sweats and sleep disturbance, fatigue, concentration loss, memory loss, irritability, skin irritation, depression and loss of confidence. Urinary problems may also occur during the menopause, and many women have recurrent lower urinary tract infections, such as cystitis. It is common for the need to pass urine to arise urgently or more often.

As such, menopausal symptoms can prove embarrassing for some women, making them reluctant to discuss the issue openly. Working with male colleagues can increase the level of embarrassment and discomfort, e.g. during hot flushes.

Hot flushes are a major source of distress for many women at work. The symptoms can be exacerbated by working in hot and poorly ventilated environments. Hot flushes can cause embarrassment or other difficulties in relationships with colleagues or clients and can make it more difficult to cope with formal meetings, and high visibility work such as formal presentations.

Women affected by menopausal symptoms are reported to feel less confident. Some women suspect the menopause has a negative impact on their managers’ and colleagues’ perceptions of their  competence at work and feel anxious about these perceived performance deficits. Their performance can suffer and situations which would normally have been dealt with easily become more difficult.

Support at work: the problem

Often employers have very little understanding of the difficulties surrounding the menopause and see them as a private matter. Consequently, it is very rarely discussed and organisations are slow to recognise that women of menopausal age may need special consideration. Many women feel that their managers would be embarrassed if they disclosed their problems and consequently do not ask for the adjustments that may help them.

The legal requirements

Employers are required under the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees and, under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, to make workplaces suitable for the individuals who work in them. The duty under Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to carry out risk assessments should include any specific risks to menopausal women.

Employers should have clear processes to support women coping with menopausal symptoms. As the symptoms of menopause can fluctuate, a flexible approach involving checking with the individual should be taken.

Some businesses have branded themselves as “menopause friendly” as a means of helping recruitment. Approaches that should be considered include the following.

  • Improving organisational culture. It should be made clear that the organisation supports menopausal women. Women in the workplace should be made aware that the organisation takes the condition seriously and it is acknowledged that it is a normal stage of life; it is something women of child-bearing age should not be ashamed of and that adjustments can easily be made.
  • The culture should be one in which the menopause can be talked about openly. Informal conversations between manager and employee can enable discussion of changes in health, which can include issues relating to the menopause. Occupational health campaigns in workplaces can be used to increase staff awareness of the difficulties women might face during transition and to challenge any negative stereotypes.
  • Providing women in a workplace with information. Guidance on how to deal with the menopause should be freely available in the workplace. Information should include how they can get support for any issues that arise as a result of the menopause. Any literature should encourage women employees to discuss any relevant health concerns with their GP.
  • Supporting women in the workplace. Management and all line managers should be trained to understand how the menopause can affect work and what adjustments may be necessary to support women who are experiencing it. Women may feel uncomfortable going to their line manager, especially if he is a man. Employers should therefore offer other options, such as someone in HR or an occupational health professional.
  • Support can also be provided by allowing the provision of informal support for mid-life women during menopause transition. This can include women’s workplace networks, online discussion forums and helpline numbers.
  • Occupational health units could provide medical check-ups and advice for women of a certain age


It is apparent that the experience of the menopause varies considerably from woman to woman. Workplaces should provide a variety of workable mechanisms so that the menopausal female workers can be provided with appropriate adjustments. Reasonable adjustments to take account of the menopause include:

  • taking account of menopause in performance and sickness reviews
  • making it clear that no negative consequences should follow from sick days a woman takes due to menopausal change
  • reducing workloads and ensuring employees are not working excessively long hours
  • giving relevant employees the capacity to rearrange formal meetings or presentations if needed
  • allowing them to switch to different tasks on bad days
  • allowing employees to take breaks where needed
  • allowing those struggling with the change to work flexible hours and/or at home, especially on bad days or when they have slept particularly poorly
  • allowing them to take days off if required or to leave early, perhaps to resume work later in the day or evening
  • allowing relevant employees time off during the working day to attend medical appointments
  • some women may suffer with heavy or irregular periods so you could consider making sanitary products
  • available in toilet facilities and making it easy to request extra uniforms if needed.

Stress at work can make some menopausal symptoms worse. The effects of this can be increased by having to make decisions on how to cope with the menopause and taking extra time off work to consult a doctor. It is important that workplace stress is also considered and addressed using the Health and Safety Executive Stress Management Standards. Employers could also refer employees to their Employee Assistance Programme, if they have one.

Risk assessments of the specific risks to menopausal women should be carried out to ensure that the working environment will not make their symptoms worse.

The next of our features where we will be exploring a range of common and not so common H&S terms.

ILLUMINANCE – A measure of the amount of light falling on a particular point, measured in Lux.

IMPROVEMENT NOTICE – A statutory notice that is issued by an authorising body such as Health and Safety Executive (HSE), or Environmental Health Officer (EHO) on discovery of a breach of statute. It states that an offence has been committed, what action needs to be taken, the reason for the action and the time deadline by which it must be taken.

INCIDENT – An accident that did not cause injury, also commonly known as a near miss.

INGESTION – One of the three ways in which a substance gains entry into the body via the mouth and stomach.

INHALABLE DUST – Dust particles which can be inhaled into the respiratory system – normally of less than 10 microns in size. The larger particle are likely to be trapped in the nasal hair and not enter further into the respiratory system.

INHALATION – The way a substance gains entry into the body via the nose and mouth, from here it travels into the lungs and the blood system.

INORGANIC DUST – mineral based dust which can cause forms of pneumoconiosis E.g. coal, silicon, quartz, stone. Exposure can result in Silicosis, and Coal Workers Lung.

INSPECTION – A comprehensive look around the workplace, looking at hazards associated with the workplace, work practices and equipment. The aim is to identify hazards and take remedial action.

INTERLOCKING GUARD – This means that if the interlock is not in place the machine cannot work. Allows access but can be easily overridden. E.g. Food mixer, lift door, microwave

INTRINSICALLY SAFE – This is where equipment is designed not to cause a fire or explosion if used in a flammable atmosphere. They are designed to run on low energy and should not generate heat sufficient to ignite a flammable atmosphere. “E Ex Ia” is the highest standard as it can cope with two faults and should still guarantee safety in a flammable atmosphere.

IONISING RADIATION – Most elements are made up of stable atoms, those containing unstable elements are said to be radioactive. The process of radio active decay produces unstable nuclei which emit three different forms of radiation Alpha, Beta and Gamma. This type of radiation has the ability to ionise matter and change the structure of atoms and cells. Radon gas is another ionising radiation source.

ISOLATION – The disconnection and separation of electrical equipment from every source of energy. The isolation method will normally be in the form of a padlock with locks the system off.


For a change we have a prosecution made by an environmental health team rather than the HSE. As the case was so serious its worth a review.

Night Club Fined After Customers Given Caustic Soda Instead of Salt for their Shots

A London nightclub has been investigated and prosecuted for a serious health and safety offence by Westminster City Council. The accident occurred at a the Tiger Tiger bar in London. The accidents and injuries occurred after a member of bar staff mistakenly gave customers caustic soda instead of salt with their tequila shots. After the accident four customers had to be taken to hospital for treatment as they had ingested this strong alkaline substance. The substance is used for cleaning drains and toilets etc when lower powered and concentrated substances are not effective.

Due to the seriousness of the incident Westminster City Council took action against the employer for breaching Section 3 of the Health and safety at Work act1974, which requires employers not to put “others at risk”. In this case the others at risk were the bar customers. The company was charged with four breaches and fined £120,000. The company pled guilty as the evidence of the breach was so damming.

If you go into a bar for a drink you are not expecting to be poisoned or given anything which will cause ill health. The local council environmental health team investigated the circumstances and found the incident had happened when a group visited the venue and ordered four tequila shots, often served with salt and lime, on December 7, 2021. The bartender prepared the drinks and whilst doing so, realised there was no salt to accompany the tequila shots. He went to an unlit area behind the bar and used a disposable plastic cup to scoop what he believed was salt from a large white container which was on a shelf, the council said.

The customers then poured the white substance onto the back of their hands, licked it and drank the shot. They immediately became unwell and the emergency services were called. When the bartender realised something was wrong, he tasted a small amount of the powder himself, which burnt his mouth and tongue. Police were called to the incident and they found a white container with a caustic soda label on it. When tested, the substance was found to have a PH level of 13, making it a strong alkaline.

The H&S inspector stated “This incident shows that overlooking basic safety measures can have the most serious consequences. We hope the significant fine awarded in court acts to all businesses as a warning, preventing this from ever happening again.”

INEOS has been fined £400,000 after an employee was seriously injured while carrying out a routine task at its chemicals site in Grangemouth, Scotland.

The worker, was attempting to clear a sump that contained a caustic solution in November 2019. However, he fell into the sump due to inadequate grating and sustained severe burn injuries. The sump had needed emptying as its contents had reached the high-level design threshold the day before.

After laying out various hoses in preparation of emptying the sump, the worker then entered the sump area. While in the sump area, the worker stepped onto the corner of the grating with his right leg.

The grating however gave way, with the worker’s right leg falling into the sump and becoming saturated with the caustic solution. He was submerged in the solution for three seconds before pulling himself out of the sump and was later treated at the burns unit at St John’s Hospital in Livingston.

The man sustained permanent scarring to his right leg and was in pain for four weeks following the incident before returning to work in the December. A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation into this incident found INEOS had failed to undertake a risk assessment of the work involved. There was also no safe system of work in place. The grating was not secured and there were no barriers in place to prevent a fall into the sump.

INEOS Chemicals Grangemouth Limited, pleaded guilty to an offence under Section 2(1) and Section 33(1)(a) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The company was fined £400,000 at Falkirk Sheriff Court on 8 March 2024.

HSE inspector Lindsey Stein said: “The duties on employers to undertake a suitable and sufficient assessment of risks and to provide a safe system of work are absolute within health and safety legislation and well understood. The dangerous properties of caustic are widely known and this incident could so easily have been avoided with the implementation of straightforward control measures identified through assessment.”


Get ready: April is Stress Awareness Month

According to Deloitte, the total annual cost of poor mental health has increased by 25% since 2019, costing UK employers up to £56 billion a year. So throughout the month of April 2024 the HSE will be inviting employers and managers to focus on completing one Working Minds step per week:

1. Reach Out (1 April)
2. Recognise (8 April)
3. Respond (15 April)
4. Reflect (22 April)
5. Make it routine (29 April)

Working Minds helps employers prevent stress and support good mental health, providing free online learning to show how to make it part of routine working life and culture. The new bitesize tool typically takes no more than an hour to complete and covers what the law requires of employers and what’s needed to do to be compliant.

Why not join them and encourage others via your networks and channels to complete the steps to prevent stress and support good mental health. Or, you can try one module per week in the HSE working minds free online learning platform by visiting:

You can also:
• Plan it into the diary and tell your colleagues and teams
• Download their Working Minds Champions checklist
• Download the 5 steps poster

International Women’s Day

With International Women’s Day just being celebrated, there was an interesting article in the news by Katy Robinson and the Institute of Civil Engineering (ICE) about a campaign for well-fitting personal protective equipment (PPE) for all.

Whilst in recent years, there have been significant improvements in the development of PPE for women, there is still widespread inequality in the PPE that the construction industry provides such as boots being too wide that can increase the likelihood of slips, trips and falls, and hi visibility clothing that limits the range of motion causing discomfort and difficulty when working.

Plan Your Route to CMIOSH

For those NEBOSH Diploma graduates wishing to progress to Chartered Member (CMIOSH) status, the current IOSH Initial Professional Development (IPD) route will remain open for members looking to progress. The current cost is £180 to register for IPD which covers the Part A and B Electronic assessments and a review of the members Blueprint CPD record. Once completed, IOSH then allow members to book a peer Review interview which will cost an additional £80 to complete the process.

IOSH have recently announced they will replace IPD with the new Professional Development Assessment (PDA) route, which will launch no earlier than spring 2024 at a cost £550. IOSH have said they will publish full details closer to the launch date.

Watch our Take Five Minutes for Health & Safety YouTube Video

Take 5 minutes to refresh yourself on the importance of undertaking a suitable and sufficient COSHH chemical assessment. As these were lacking in our two featured accidents and prosecutions.


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