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Focus Archive

The future of health and safety from the UK Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) perspective

by Judith Hackitt, CEO HSE
January 2011

The following is a talk given at the UK Westminster Briefing Conference on Tuesday, 7 December 2010.

You have asked me to speak to you today about the future of health and safety from the HSE's perspective following Lord Young's review. You have already heard from a number of people today who have given you their particular view on one or another specific aspect of Lord Young's work. In due course I will focus on one or two of the specific recommendations which it falls to HSE to deliver but before I do that I wish to make some more general remarks.

First of all, let's keep some real perspective on this topic. The importance of workplace health and safety has not changed at all. Preventing death, serious injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work activities remains front and centre as the core mission of what all those of us who are part of the health and safety system do - not just what HSE does.

When the Board of HSE started work on its new strategy for health and safety in Great Britain back in 2008, we were very much aware that in developing it and resetting the direction of travel we needed, as far as possible, to ensure that it would remain relevant even if circumstances and situations changed.

Looking again at our strategy for Health and Safety in Great Britain in the 21st Century I'm confident that following the publication of Lord Young's report and the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review, it remains broadly relevant and appropriate.

Indeed, we have found that the strategy has offered a very sound framework to adopt Lord Young's recommendations and to meet the requirements placed on us in HSE and on our LA partners as a result of the spending review. I want to remind you that the supporting strap line in our strategy was an invitation to everyone who is part of the health and safety system to "be part of the solution". If you look at the progress report on our website on strategy implementation one-year-on you will see some extraordinary examples of the level of engagement and initiative that we have seen from stakeholders in all parts of the system, leading the way and sharing good practice with one another.

But more importantly I think Lord Young has reinforced that message that others need to be part of the solution. Not just in terms of improving the health and safety system but in helping to draw the distinction between real health and safety risks, which threaten serious harm to people in the workplace, and the other types of risk averse behaviour that people mistake for health and safety but in reality is much more to do with a compensation culture or mentality. It is our fervent hope that Lord Young's report will mark a turning point on the road to recovery for the real health and safety agenda. We in HSE welcomed Lord Young's review at the outset. We were delighted to engage with Lord Young during the research phase of his work to provide evidence and suggestions for solutions. We supported his recommendations when the report was published. And we have committed ourselves to work energetically to deliver on those recommendations which are within our remit and have been assigned to us.

Other Government departments have also committed to following through on the recommendations which fall to them. I very much hope that the many other stakeholders who are also part of the system will continue to play their part in helping us to deliver on all of the recommendations contained in the report.

So having talked in a broad sense, let's now take a look at some of the specifics. To coincide with the publication of Lord Young's report we launched the first of our simple to use online risk assessments for low risk businesses - for offices. We are now in the process of developing and trialling similar tools for use in classrooms and shops.

We are fully committed to making it as easy as possible for truly low risk businesses to do what is required to reduce the obvious risks in their businesses without getting bogged down in paperwork. But we also need to ensure that bigger risks and hazards are not overlooked because we all know that in the case of both shops and classrooms one size does not fit all - science laboratories are very different from a room that is simply full of tables and chairs. Likewise, timber and building supply depots are shops but not the same as your corner shop!

Our approach to online risk assessments is a perfect example of where our response to Lord Young's recommendations fits with the strategy. WE said in the strategy that we wanted to build confidence and competence so that people in business can make sensible decisions themselves on what matters and what is trivial and can be ignored. The online risk assessment tool is designed to build that confidence without low risk businesses feeling the need to resort to seeking external advice from consultants.

In those cases where businesses do need to seek expert advice, we have been working hard with other stakeholders to develop the Occupational Safety Consultants register. You have heard about the register already this afternoon from Andrew Griffiths. HSE is very grateful to IOSH, CIEH and the many other professional bodies who have helped to take this initiative forward. As far as HSE is concerned we see it as being another important step which is consistent with the strategy. Employers can consult the register with confidence that the person they are engaging has complied with the high qualification and competence standards of a recognised professional body.

Although HSE has played an active role in establishing the scheme ready for launch in January 2011, the intention is that we will not be directly involved once the scheme is up and running.

Now let's turn our attention to some of the other recommendations contained in Lord Young's report. We have committed to producing clear guidance for small and medium sized businesses engaged in lower risk activities. This naturally flows on from the work we have done on simple risk assessments as well. Many of you will be aware that HSE already provides a great deal of guidance to business, so one key element of this activity is to review the guidance that's already been published and to seek to simplify that wherever we can. I believe also that guidance is an area where companies can come together under the umbrella of their trade bodies to produce industry specific guidance that may be better suited to business needs. Here again is an example of the strategy in action; where HSE can move into a supporting rather than a leading role in the production of guidance - and leadership moving into the hands of business leaders and trade and professional bodies. Next week, the HSE Board will hold its first discussion on how to take forward Lord Young's recommendations on amending the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations. Lord Young has recommended that the period for reporting of RIDDOR incidents should be extended from three to seven days. Our expectation is that we will go out to consultation on proposals early in 2011 because we feel it is very important to involve stakeholders in how we implement this recommendation. Whilst we all very much support the need to reduce unnecessary reporting and paperwork where this is unlikely to result in any follow up action, we must also bear in mind the importance of continuing to gather data on actual performance on injuries and illness occurrence across all sectors. In seeking to remove the burdens of unnecessary bureaucracy on small business we must be careful to ensure that important data on performance is not lost.

Finally, I would like to say something about the potential impacts of the spending review on HSE. HSE has of course had to take its share of savings just as any other Government department or public body. The settlement has been publicised already and the headline figures are that HSE is required to make a minimum of 35 per cent savings in its dependence on public funding over four years. But let's put that into context. Savings of 35 per cent are the norm across DWP - our sponsoring department. So we are not being treated more harshly than anyone else, and there is a significant portion of what HSE does where we already recover all of our costs from those that we regulate. In major hazards, on and off shore, and the nuclear industry - approximately a third of our work - we recover all of our costs - so Government funding currently represents two thirds of HSE's budget. So how do we plan to make the savings?

We, like other organisations, continue to look for opportunities to improve our efficiency and make savings as a matter of course. The closure of our corporate activities in Rose Court here in London two years ago and consolidation of our activities into one corporate HQ in Bootle, Merseyside was a very good example of achieving significant efficiency and cost savings. We will continue to seek to make efficiencies through better ways of working and in consolidation of our premises as part of the drive to meet the cost savings we have been given. But Ministers have also encouraged us to look at ways in which we can replace Government funding with income from other sources and we are currently in the process of developing proposals in this area.

It is not clear at this stage the extent of recovery that we will be able to implement or how much this will offset the 35 per cent reduction, but I can give you some indications of where we think this might be and explain why these ideas are also consistent with the strategy.

We are working on a proposal to charge those who create risks. A so-called: "fee for fault" principle. The idea being that those who are found not to be compliant with the law during an inspection should be charged for the work that HSE does following the issuing of a notice or other requirement for action to rectify the fault. We believe that this approach is fair and equitable and will be welcomed by the vast majority of businesses who are compliant and who see those who take short cuts as getting away with an unfair competitive advantage. Such an approach should be seen by business as a way of levelling the playing field. We do recognise that there will need to be safeguards built in to the process to ensure that such a scheme is transparent and open to scrutiny.

HSE also provides a considerable amount of non statutory advice to business. We regard some of that as being an important part of our role as a regulator in helping businesses to understand what is required and what good practice looks like. However, we are considering where and how we might charge businesses that use our staff and resources for advice and consultation on their health and safety systems. We also provide a great deal of advice and input on land use planning matters - the principal beneficiaries being the developers who propose to build in the vicinity of major hazards installations. At the heart of our input lies a considerable amount of knowledge which we believe does have a value and should therefore be cost recovered.

Whilst we already cost recover from businesses which are deemed to be major hazard sites under our permissioning regimes, we are looking at the possibility of extending charging to businesses with comparable regulatory oversight where we currently do not charge. I emphasise that at the moment these ideas are in their early stages of development. But I do think that it is important that we give some indication of the thinking which is taking place. Given that we do already have a substantial level of cost recovery in HSE it seems both logical and fair to all dutyholders that we look at ways of extending this approach to increase consistency and place any increased burden on those who are found to be at fault.

In reconciling this approach with our strategy it seems obvious that those who are doing the right thing have nothing to fear from any such change in approach - and we will be emphasising through charging the need for those who choose to flout the law to put their house in order.

So, in summary, there is a good deal of change going on in the world of health and safety. We are seeing a change of culture which has been given a substantial boost by Lord Young's report which we in HSE wholeheartedly welcome. We are committed to following through on his recommendations at the same time as we closely look at how we operate in order to meet the challenges of the spending review. The strategy remains our road map throughout this process and we see no need to change course at the strategic level. If anything the changes only serve to emphasise the important role that others have to play in leading health and safety and being part of the solution rather than the problem.

We continue to share a common purpose in preventing death, serious injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work activities. Leadership, involvement, partnership and sharing of good practice have been and will continue to be part of how achieve our shared mission.

Given at the Westminster Conference on Tuesday, 7 December 2010 HSE Chair's speech The future of health and safety from HSE's perspective.