Thank you for inviting me to speak at ‘The Future of Health and Safety Conference 2015’. Trying to predict and plan for future needs is always important, so I will talk about where HSE and the whole health and safety system stands today after a busy recent period, how we got here and the course we are setting for the future.
Many of you will be aware that last year marked the 40th anniversary of the Health and Safety at Work Act. And in January, the Health and Safety Executive reached the same milestone. Despite this passage of time, the health and safety system remains, fundamentally, fit for purpose. This is because of the enduring principle of health and safety law in Great Britain – that those who create risks are best placed to control them, and that they should do so in a proportionate and practical way. The focus is on outcomes that need to be achieved, not rules and paperwork – the Act and regulations are designed to enable activities to take place, not to stop them.
And the statistics show that the UK has one of the most successful health and safety records in the world. We have been consistently at or near the head of the field in charts like this and our aim is to keep it that way.
There have been a number of reviews of health and safety in recent years and they have all shown that fundamentally the system we have in Great Britain is fit for purpose. We are not complacent though and as with any organisation or business HSE seeks to improve and do things better. Recommendations from reviews have been taken forward, including:
And changes are taking place at HSE itself. We gained a new Chief Executive, Richard Judge, in November and two new Board members have been appointed. Richard and the new board members bring new skill sets into HSE to match the organisation’s revised strategic direction. But I want to make a clear distinction here between the strategy for HSE itself and the strategy for the health and safety system – known as Be Part of the Solution. It is the former that we are revising, not the latter.
We need to ensure HSE continues to be a modern, effective independent regulator here in GB, adapting and improving how we work to ensure that we retain our reputation as a world class regulator, whilst also identifying and pursuing new opportunities.
There are three overarching themes to our strategic approach. These are to:
We have set this direction not only in light of the triennial review – But because it makes good business sense. You, our stakeholders, have told us that you want to see more of HSE out in the field sharing our knowledge and providing valuable advice. We want to do that but we know that it would be wholly unrealistic to expect this to be funded by the public purse. Extending the scope of what we do can provide the means to keep investing in our regulatory functions and create a sustainable, long-term business model that is less reliant on the taxpayer.
As part of anticipating future needs, HSE has been looking at something called Megatrends recently – a fancy title for the major factors influencing society, politics, technology etc. over the coming years. Having more awareness of external trends helps us anticipate and prepare for the future.
Some examples of trends that could affect HSE or the delivery of health and safety outcomes during the rest of this decade and beyond include:
I mentioned that part of our strategy for HSE involves making use of HSE’s intellectual property. What does that mean? It is about utilising our knowledge and expertise to help maintain our world class resources, so that we can continue our role as a world-class regulator and public body. Our reputation and standing, here at home and around the world is built upon what we do as a regulator and the outcomes that this achieves for the system as a whole.
By offering a greater range of products and services to help British businesses manage occupational health and safety risks we will be doing more to support workplace health and safety performance and business productivity here in Britain.
What’s more, by sharing the success of our regulatory approach around the globe we will be supporting higher standards of protection for workers the world over. We will also be projecting British influence and providing a competitive advantage to British businesses that are already familiar with operating under our regulatory framework.
The combination of the Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL) with the rest of HSE gives us a unique capability and a fully integrated learning cycle. HSL provides forensic expertise which is often crucial to successful enforcement action. But that knowledge also enables the whole organisation to learn. So when our inspectors identify challenges in workplaces HSL can undertake research and provide preventative solutions.
But the performance of the health and safety system in Great Britain is not achieved by the regulator alone. It requires buy-in and commitment from everyone who is part of the health and safety system. And the next two topics I will talk about are both ones in which you can play a part in ensuring that success continues, by dispelling myths, focusing on what really matters for health and safety rather than trivia, and by making sure that health and safety isn’t apologetically hidden away in a corner of organisations but included at the heart of leadership decision making.
Sometimes you wouldn’t think health and safety was a success in GB from stories in the press – unfortunately the phrase ‘elf ‘n’ safety gone mad’ became a byword for bizarre decisions made in the name of health and safety. Often the incidents that gave birth to the stories turn out to be nothing to do with health and safety at all.
Because of this, HSE realised it needed to help protect the image of health and safety from misinterpretation or worse still when it is used as an expedient excuse for doing something unpopular.
We did this by setting up the Myth Busters Challenge Panel in 2012, for members of the public to submit instances where they believe they have been on the receiving end of baffling or over-the-top decisions made in the name of ‘health and safety’. The Panel publishes its conclusions on HSE’s website and seeks to set the record straight, making it clear where health and safety has been misrepresented, or used as a catch all reason for stopping activities. Over 340 cases have been considered to date.
And recent independent research by the University of Exeter into the cases brought to the panel has shed further light on the causes of these issues.
The research shows that retail and leisure businesses feature prominently, with half of all cases put to the Panel being from shops, cafes and leisure centres. The fear of being sued, cost avoidance and lack of training were other key reasons behind the use of the health and safety myth.
Examples include customers being told by a leisure centre that they wouldn’t lend floats or goggles to use in the swimming pool for health and safety reasons!
The research found that four main groups of people bear the brunt of health and safety myths - consumers (32%), children (20%); employees (13%) and citizens accessing public services (12%).
Our message is to encourage everyone, especially those working in leisure and retail, to stop using the health and safety catch-all excuse and give the real reason for the decisions they take. Giving health and safety the blame is lazy and unhelpful and getting rid of over-the-top decisions blamed on it will actually improve the service customers receive from their businesses. Please help us to get these messages across.
Another area where we need your help is health and safety leadership. Whether you are in a leadership position yourself or whether you can influence those who are, health and safety requires leadership from the top, regardless of how good a system you might have in place for it below board level.
If the CEO, the board and the senior management team do not lead by example in all of their business goals, how can they expect the rest of the organisation to achieve them?
That’s why HSE produced leadership guidance in conjunction with the Institute of Directors and key stakeholders representing employers, workers and the public, private and voluntary sectors. Please do not fall in to the trap of thinking that by having a manager somewhere in the organisation with health and safety in their title that they will take care of everything and shouldn’t bother the board with it.
Members of the board have both collective and individual responsibility for health and safety. Directors and boards need to examine their own behaviours, both individually and collectively, against the guidance given - and, where they see that they fall short of the standards it sets them, to change what they do to become more effective leaders in health and safety.
There are some compelling reasons why they should act:
Health and safety law places duties on organisations and employers, and directors can be personally liable when these duties are breached.
What are the essential principles of health and safety leadership?
Strong and active leadership from the top
Assessment and review
I mentioned earlier that recommendations had been made for improving and simplifying guidance and Approved Codes of Practice (ACoPs). And I am pleased to report we have now reviewed nearly all of our guidance and conducted a comprehensive review of all ACoPs. We engaged stakeholders in this process to ensure we are providing information that contains the appropriate level of detail for their needs.
We don’t think that generating more and more guidance is the answer to further helping small businesses; really we need to try and raise awareness of what we already have and be sure we are reaching the right people.
We are simplifying wherever we can - for example, for smaller, low risk businesses, we have revamped our basic health and safety guidance – and re-launched it as a web based tool – Health and Safety Made Simple. It is proving popular and has been accessed well over a million times.
The old Essentials of Health and Safety publication has been replaced with the Health and Safety Toolbox – providing clear consistent guidance via the web as well as in hard copy. It is the next level of guidance up from Health and Safety Made Simple, aimed at those who need some more detail on specific hazards and issues.
For the first time it pulls together in one place quick, simple guides and interactive tools on how to identify, assess and control common workplace hazards. Core health and safety issues relating to the type of business, its workforce and workplace are set out more simply than ever before. Sections on the most common risks – such as manual handling, trip hazards and harmful substances – as well as tips on protective equipment are set out in plain English.
And we have worked with a software company to help develop an ‘App’ version of the Toolbox, called the SME Safety Wizard. It launched last week and is available to run on iOS devices, free to download from the App store. It is another way of providing our information on a mobile platform for those businesses that want to use iPads and iPhones in the workplace.
The last piece of guidance I will mention is on Successful Health and Safety Management – commonly referred to as HSG65 – this has been re-written. It is now more relevant and accessible to those managing health and safety in workplaces. All the materials we have created are fit for purpose, simpler to understand and simpler for businesses to act on.
Finally, thinking ahead to the rest of 2015, what is in store for health and safety?
A few examples include implementing revisions to the Construction Design and Management Regulations and introducing a new, single set of modern regulations in the mining sector which will replace 45 outmoded and prescriptive sets of regulations. We will be working with dutyholders to implement revised EU regulations in both on and offshore major hazards industries. And we will be looking at how we better respond to health and safety needs in Scotland from within a reserved GB wide HSE.
So another busy year ahead, but all part of maintaining and improving a system I am proud to be a part of. I hope you are too.