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Health and safety in the supply chain structure and the considerable benefits of a joined up approach.

Most will be familiar with the traditional supply chain structure, but many of us do not pause to reflect on the health and safety implications that one part of the chain can have on another.

Legal responsibilities

All employers have a duty under section 3(1) Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that those not in their employment, who may be affected thereby, are not exposed to risks to their safety. In addition, under Regulation 11 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 there is a duty of cooperation between employers, so far as is necessary, to enable them to comply with legal requirements.

Product Manufacturers

From a manufacturing perspective, according to HSE, an estimated 54,000 workers are involved in non-fatal incidents each year. The majority of injuries stem from slips, trips and falls, manual handling injuries, being struck by moving objects and contact with moving machinery.  

In 2021/22 there were very sadly 22 worker deaths in the manufacturing industry, the bulk of which arose from contact with moving machinery, being struck by moving objects and falls from height. There are also around 92,000 cases of work-related ill health each year, 40% of which concern musculoskeletal disorders.  Cases of stress, depression and anxiety are also on the rise.

The economic cost to society has been estimated to be £1.3 billion for both worker ill health and injury (based on 2019/20 figures). 

In our experience, serious incidents in factories commonly arise from conveyor systems and workers being pulled into moving machinery. This especially seems to be the case where maintenance work is carried out and guards are removed, and the correct systems are not followed for isolating and locking off conveyors.

The challenge for manufacturers is to ensure that they have health and safety management systems in place to protect their own workers and to consider the impact of the supply of their goods and materials further down the supply chain. For example, can the goods be handled safety? Are boxes and crates provided with suitable hand holds? Are products supplied in boxes/crates which are a reasonable unit weight (i.e. not over 25kg)? If not, does the customer have the necessary equipment to avoid manual handling?

Transportation and storage

The annual statistics for transportation and storage, released by HSE, indicate that there are approximately  49,000 cases of work related ill-health in the industry, most of which relates to stress, depression and anxiety (41%) and musculoskeletal disorders (36%).  

There were 16 fatal injuries arising from workers being struck by moving vehicles, falls from height, being trapped by something collapsing/overturning, and being struck by moving objects. There were approximately 31,000 workers involved in non-fatal incidents, most concerned slips, trips and falls, injuries from lifting and carrying and being struck by moving/falling objects.

The transportation and storage sector covers a broad range of areas and the risks involved in land transport will vary greatly in comparison to transport by water or air. Warehousing activities present their own challenges with particular focus being needed on vehicle safety and safe racking systems. The most common serious incidents that we see in relation to warehousing, concern individuals being struck by forklift trucks and other equipment designed to move goods around the warehouse. Clear systems to segregate pedestrians and vehicles would often have reduced the chances of such incidents occurring. 

Load security in the transport industry has very much come under the spotlight in recent years. It is common practice in many retail sectors for the loading of vehicles and trailers to take place in the absence of the haulier. Unless managed carefully, such a practice can be fraught with risk.

In 2022 the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency updated their guidance on load security:

The guidance makes it clear that it is not just the driver who is responsible for the safety of the vehicle and its load:

“Everybody in the transport chain should make themselves aware of the rules set out in the DfT code of practice: safety of loads on vehicles… If the drivers do not load the vehicle ideally they should be given the opportunity to observe the competent person loading the vehicle…If it’s not appropriate for the drivers to watch the loading then they should be given information about how the load has been secured and/or given the chance to check the load prior to departure…Information about the load should be clearly communicated to the driver. You need to take account of possible driver handovers and language barriers.”

The guidance makes it clear that retailers and hauliers are expected to work closely together to ensure that both parties meet their obligations. Should a load-shedding incident occur it will be for retailers and the haulier to satisfy the relevant agencies (Police, the Office of the Traffic Commissioner, the Health and Safety Executive) that all duties were complied with.

Additional challenges arise from the increasingly common traction-only haulage model, in which hauliers “drop and swap” pre-loaded trailers belonging to or managed by a third party (eg: the retailer / manufacturer / logistics provider).  The Office of the Traffic Commissioner 2021/22 annual report sent a strong message to the industry:

“In several high-profile cases this year it has been suggested that some trailer suppliers (including those based offshore) are avoiding responsibilities to ensure safe operation of trailers on GB roads. The lack of adequate arrangements regarding regular and frequent brake testing has been a prominent failing. The potential impact on British roads is significant and the traffic commissioners have felt the need to issue several warnings regarding this to companies involved in this type of third-party trailer operation. Responsible suppliers of trailers have already taken the advice of DVSA to ensure that operators have access to relevant information which indicates the annual test expiry, the date of the last Preventative Maintenance Inspection, for trailers not fitted with electronic brake performance monitoring the date of last roller brake test and to confirm that this was laden and contact details for reporting of defects.”

The message from the regulator again is clear: the responsibilities for ensuring safe transportation of goods is not limited to the carrier but is shared across the supply chain.  Businesses involved in traction-only haulage, or a pre-loading logistics model are advised to review their existing processes and procedures to ensure they reflect the latest regulatory expectations.


The retail industry is a major employer in the UK employing around 3 million people. There is limited data available to evidence the cause of most incidents and cases of ill-health within the retrial sector. However, HSE’s statistics for 2021/22 suggest that wholesale/retail trade has an average of 3,410 cases of work-related ill-health and 2,060 non-fatal workplace injuries per 100,000 workers. To put these figures into context, they are better than the construction industry (as one would expect), but the industry performed less favourably as compared with manufacturing.

HSE’s guidance for employers within the retail industry tends to focus on preventing slips and trips and also manual handling. Workplace transport is also of relevance given the need to move stock around. Recent prosecutions of major retailers have involved serious incidents arising from:

  • Slips / trips –Tesco was fined £733,333 after an elderly customer slipped on pooling liquid which was leaking from refrigerator units.
  • Asbestos management – Poundland received a fine of £565,000 for failing to have a proper asbestos management plan.


The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) commissioned research by Cardiff and Oxford Brookes Universities on ‘Understanding the role of supply chains in influencing health and safety at work’. This made several interesting findings:

  • The attention paid to health and safety-related issues by supply chain buyers varies considerably. This variation in attention is likely to reflect differences in the extent to which suppliers’ health and safety management affects the effective supply of goods and services to buyers legislative and regulatory pressures.
  • Health and safety in supply chains is influenced both directly and indirectly by buyers and can be both positive and negative. Attempts by buyers to influence their suppliers’ health and safety management will be more effective where: they are supported by adequate monitoring and penalty arrangements and the relationship is relatively collaborative and trust based.
  • Collaborative and trust-based relationships are more likely to exist where buyers and suppliers have worked well together for a relatively long time, there is a supportive environment and there is regulatory scrutiny or pressure.
  • Attempts by buyers to influence suppliers’ health and safety management will be less successful where: they clash with the suppliers’ business interests’ or where suppliers view the risks associated with failing to comply with them as low.
  • Regulation of the supply chain can take various forms, but in all cases there are opportunities for inspection and auditing of compliance.

The key to reducing injuries to workers throughout the supply chain is close cooperation between suppliers, manufacturers and retailers.

Advantages of a safe supply chain

The benefits of having a safe and healthy supply chain are considerable:

  • Reduction to costs associated with accidents, injuries, illnesses, and other problems caused by a lack of safety measures;
  • Improved productivity and morale in the supply chain;
  • Reduced insurance premiums; and
  • Increased brand reputation and customer trust.

Should you wish to discuss this article further or any of the points raised with regards to supply chain or health and safety, then please contact our expert team of transport solicitors today.