Thank you for opportunity to update Westminster Legal Policy Forum.
You will hear later on today from Fiona Walshe from DWP so I am going to focus on what things look like from inside HSE.
Every one of us knows that we have a press problem in relation to health and safety. But things are changing. Mythbusters has helped us make a real difference in this respect.
There are plenty of encouraging signs that we are starting to change perceptions of health and safety – not least typified by a recent Thunderer piece in The Times which made clear that H&S legislation is a good thing. But the time has now come for us to tackle the cause of these stories – and that means every one of you thinking about whether you and/or your organisation contributes to the problem with unnecessary rules, over-reaction to very minor risks or simply playing the “health and safety “ card to justify something because people are less likely to challenge it.
Just as we are doing in HSE there’s a need for everyone to take time to ensure that they are focussing on the real priorities – the real hazards that could cause serious injury or damage people’s health. Paper cuts incurred in the office and unlikely to be life threatening so why do so many organisations respond to them by conducting a full investigation?
This is partly about recognising that some of the risks are harder to tackle – health, process safety – but this is where you will have much more impact on outcomes in terms of prevention of harm to people. But its also about having the courage to let go of the trivial – the things which have become part of the drive for “continuous improvement” even when you have reached the point of seriously diminishing returns.
Before I go into more detail on some of HSE’s programmes of work, I just want to touch briefly on our annual statistics which were published two weeks ago. Compared to the previous year’s report 2012/13’s number show an 11 per cent drop in major injuries and 23 less fatalities (148 down from 171). Britain’s health and safety performance is improving, but still, there are too many deaths and injuries.
While the number of workplace fatalities continues to drop - the number of people dying prematurely each year because of occupational disease is still a huge problem. Past exposures to harmful substances at work cause over an estimated 12,000 deaths per year.
So, occupational disease is high on HSE’s agenda and we’re committed to reducing these numbers. We are continuing to focus our interventions working with industry stakeholders, targeted inspection initiatives and awareness raising initiatives.
Much of the commentary on recent reviews has focused on the amount of regulatory reform that it has triggered. But let’s just remind ourselves that the reviews have all pointed to the need for everyone who is part of the health and safety system to focus on real risks and play their part to prevent death and serious injury and ill health in the workplace. The reform agenda aims to make it easier for everyone to understand what is really required – not to change the standards of protection required.
HSE has been working to implement the recommendations from these reviews and to achieve the objectives set out in our business plan;
The key to being successful in delivering these goals, is the same for everyone in health and safety - flexibility. Today’s workplaces and technologies are changing. For Britain to continue to be one of the safest and healthiest places to work in the world, we need to continuously improve and modernise our approaches to ensure they remain fit for purpose, whilst maintaining the high standards of protection – that’s a different take on “continuous improvement” to pursuing ever diminishing risks and hazards.
I’d like to illustrate what I mean by referring to our next Asbestos campaign. Whilst building on our previous, successful Hidden Killer campaign, we will employ a different approach when the new campaign launches in the New Year. HSE has carried out up-to-date audience research to gather solid evidence on which to develop the campaign strategy.
We have crucial intelligence on;
HSE will adopt some new ‘behaviours’ to innovate with the campaign including;
This new campaign is about much more than just raising awareness it focuses on helping trades people adopt safe behaviours when dealing with asbestos.
We have made a lot of progress in overhauling all of our guidance and regulations to make them up to date, relevant and accessible.
In all over eighty percent of health and safety regulations are either being improved or removed but we are certainly not throwing away the good stuff. We need regulations to protect people at work: but it is important to strike the right balance, and stay relevant to today’s workplaces and workforces.
For many businesses the best source of guidance is online. The revamped HSE website makes it clear to those new to health and safety or working in low risk areas where they need to start and where they can stop.
The whole look and feel of guidance provided by HSE is changing. The website is now tailored to enable easier access and to ensure that low risk businesses can find the essential information they need without having to search through the detail.
HSE’s online guidance includes; The new Health & Safety Toolbox, Health and Safety Made Simple (HSMS) and the online risk assessment tools. It is clear from the number of hits we get on these online sites that they are proving very popular indeed.
There is still more reformand update to come and in 2014 HSE will seek to repeal the Offices, Shops & Railway Premises Act 1963, further Sections of the Factory Act 1961 and nine Statutory Instruments. We will also deliver on a major programme of sector-specific consolidations covering Mines, Explosives, GMOs, Biocides and Petroleum.
The reviews of ACOPs and guidance aims to make sure that HSE's portfolio is practical and proportionate; making it easier for employers to understand and therefore meet their legal obligations. Fifteen ACOPs are due to be revised, consolidated or withdrawn this year with another tranche scheduled for revision and update in 2014.
2014 will also see us embark upon some changes to CDM as part of the guidance overhaul. It will not significantly change the technical standards which underpin the Regulations – they are not controversial and have stood the test of time. We are simply intending to streamline their delivery.
The revision which we are preparing to consult upon is underpinned by four priorities:
Overall we believe that the revised package will deliver significant savings to businesses through the streamlining of processes and the removal of the CDM co-ordinator role will be much more accessible to those involved on small construction sites due to the simpler structure of the regulations. The production of guidance has the needs of small businesses at its heart to deliver satisfactory transposition of the parent Directive and improve worker protection.
Current plans are for the revised Regulations to come into force in April 2015 and formal consultation is expected to start early in 2014.
Inspections always have and always will be an important part of the role of the regulator, but they are being targeted primarily towards areas where there is greatest risk, with fewer proactive inspections for businesses in lower risk areas who meet their legal obligations.
The priority sectors are those with the highest incidence rates of accidents and where inspection is an effective intervention. HSE will target poor performers in other sectors.
But we must also be really clear that no sector is out of our sight and we continue to monitor performance in all sectors closely to identify where we need to make interventions
The national code for directing local authorities seeks to ensure that HSE's proportionate, risk based approach to interventions are adopted by the hundreds of individual local authorities that regulate health and safety in lower risk workplaces.
At the end of the sixth FFI invoice period taking us up to the end of September, the key stats are:
Our overall strategic direction and the goals we seek to achieve are constants. And there are promising signs. The tide may be turning on the way health and safety is perceived with the Mythbusters Challenge panel continuing to expose the (excuses) real reasons behind myths. The legislative and guidance framework is now simpler, clearer, more accessible and relevant to the end users. WE know that there are further changes ahead but that doesn’t make HSE any different from any other organisation. 2014 will see a new Chief Executive in place and we will know more about what the Triennial Review has found and recommended.
Given that 2014 marks the 40th anniversary of HSWA and also that we are now coming up for 5 years on from the launch of our current strategy, it is likely that this will be a good point at which to revisit and update our strategy document.
There is a need for us all to continually adapt – to look at our environment, our performance, our technologies and so on and make sure that we are reflecting this is in our policies and practices as regulators, businesses and professional associations. Only by doing this will we both learn from the past and ensure continued improvement and success for the future.