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Judith Hackitt on the Common Sense Common Safety report

Lord Young first started looking at health and safety ahead of the election and then following the election he was asked by David Cameron to take the work further and he’s been doing a review of health and safety and in particular the issues that have given the whole image of health and safety such a bad name and looking specifically at the compensation culture that’s been part of the remit.

Perhaps people listening might think that would send the Health and Safety Executive into a complete panic?

Not at all, we said right at the outset that we very much welcomed this review and if people look back at what I’ve been saying since I’ve been the Chair of HSE, I’ve said all along that a number of the things that give health and safety a bad name are things that we have no responsibility for whatsoever. And so it was a really good news piece to me when Lord Young was appointed to do this because it needed someone who could look beyond the remit of the Health and Safety Executive and look at what the other factors are out there that create the problems that we all know only too well that create all the nonsense and the myths.

What you’re saying really is that this is a good opportunity for people to actually understand the real work of health and safety?

Yes. We know that what we do is important and we have every right and every reason to continue to stand up for what we do because we focus on real risks. Anyone and anything that is going to make a difference and a distinction between that and much of the rubbish that’s done in our name can only be good news as far as I’m concerned.

When the review came out you talked about how health and safety is often used as an excuse to hide behind, what did that mean?

It means that it’s become an easy excuse for laziness, this might cost money and so I just don’t want to do it. But it’s much easier for lots of people to simply say I’m not doing it because of health and safety. And what Lord Young I think has found from what I’ve discussed with him during the course of his review is being just how much that goes on, you know he’s written in the newspaper about toothpicks and about all sorts of nonsense examples he’s found himself, where people have hidden behind health and safety as an excuse when it’s quite clear it’s about cost-cutting or laziness or whatever.

In an ideal world how would you like to see that changed, you know how would you want people to be prevented from doing that?

Well as ever the ideal solution to come out of this is that we redress the balance and get back to the right place. So for example whilst compensation culture is out with our remit I think we have to recognise that there are people out there who will continue to make claims and rightly so when they’ve been harmed because other people have been negligent, but it’s the spurious and the claims that are made on the basis of well I’ll just see what I can get, that you want to stop because it’s part of getting people to recognise that they have some responsibility for themselves and so that I think is important. In our area the real health and safety issues that we deal with I think if this report gets everyone else to focus on, yes there are real risks in some work places, not necessarily just big ones, sometimes they’ll be small but ones that have real risks and those are the areas we need to focus on, then that I think is all to the good and just reinforces many of the messages that are already in our strategy.

One of the things that the HSE has been doing for the last three years or so is trying to kind of smash those myths hasn’t it, do you think that work has started to make a bit of a difference in the media coverage that you get?

I think it certainly has started to make a difference you start to see reporters referring to that. And again I think because of Lord Young’s own publicity and public relations work that he’s been doing about his own review, people have gone back and looked at some of that material that has been on our website for a long time and recognise that there is a consistency of message here that’s being picked up on. So yes I think it is starting to turn the tide and I think we can look forward to actually making some real progress now on creating this clear water between the genuine stuff that we do and the nonsense that’s done in our name.

Updated 2011-05-24