Good morning and thank you for inviting me back to speak today. I value the opportunity to update senior business people on what is happening in HSE and also to hear your feedback on how things are on “your side of the fence”.
I propose to talk through some of the recent and current changes that are taking place in our health and safety system and also to give you an idea of the future direction we are taking.
But before I get into the details, I want to take this opportunity of the approaching 40th Anniversary of HSWA to set the broader context by reminding you how smart GB’s health and safety system is and why it remains, fundamentally, fit to face the future.
Its principles are the key.
Put simply, health and safety law in GB places responsibility on those who create risks to manage those risks in a proportionate, practical way. It sets standards in terms of outcomes to be achieved, not by straitjacketing dutyholders and business into doing things in a particular way according to prescriptive rules.
This means that it is universally applicable – regardless of whether you’re farming, fracking for shale gas or working with nano-materials in an ultra high-tech laboratory.
This approach has proven itself to be far more effective than a prescriptive rules based alternative. GB’s health and safety performance compared to any other country in the world proves that. It is also a system which is designed to enable growth, and innovation, to take place rather than inhibiting progress. Our system may be 40 years old but its underlying philosophy is timeless and its implementation, widely recognised and lauded as world class.
The various reviews, most recently Martin Temple Chair of EEF’s Triennial Review of HSE, have all produced a vast array of findings and recommendations but none have sought to challenge the fundamental framework of what we do or how we do it.
All the reviews have reaffirmed that our H&S regulatory system is fit for purpose. This is important context which frames the work we are doing to tackle issues around:
For the record, we have reviewed all 200 odd sets of health and safety regulations and Acts on the statute book. We’ve removed what’s out of date, superseded, where there’s duplication The changes make it easier for dutyholders to understand what they have to do to improve levels of compliance; but do not reduce standards.
One of the next key steps is to implement the Lofstedt recommendation ‘exemption of the self employed’, where we are working hard to ensure that the exemption applies to those who do not present a risk to others through their work and not where there is a real risk of harm to others from their activities. However, we are not exempting the self-employed where their work presents significant risks, and where the risks to self/risks to others are inseparable, for example, those who are working in construction.
Simplifying our guidance and Approved Codes of Practice – is also about making it easier for people to find the information they need quickly and at the appropriate level of detail and technicality.
All of our guidance publications have already been reviewed. We have radically overhauled our website and the comprehensive review of ACOPs is almost complete. The first phase of revised ACOPs have already been published and the second phase is ongoing.
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 already been accessed over one million times.
The old Essentials of Health and Safety publication is now the Health and safety toolbox – providing clear consistent guidance in web accessible as well as hard copy format. It is the next level of guidance up from Health and safety made simple and is aimed at those who need some more detail on specific hazards and issues.
I should say at this point that we recognise that this level of review of our important suite of supporting documents has involved a large amount of stakeholder input. The level of commitment and interest that you and your colleagues have put into this work is greatly appreciated. I hope also that the way that we have done this through greater detailed involvement during the drafting stage but with somewhat shorter formal consultation periods is proving to be more effective and efficient for you as a way of working.
There has been continued focus on the proportionality and effectiveness of EU regulation. We fully recognise the need to ensure new and existing EU health and safety legislation is proportionate and is wherever possible based on risk and hard evidence.
We have been particularly successful recently in ensuring that the new Offshore Directive is indeed a directive and not a regulation and in securing some very important derogations in a number of new and some existing regulations.
Our priorities now are to use the EC’s own review of the Health and Safety Acquis and the development of a new OHS strategy to ensure that new requirements are based on good evidence of need and that the need for/value of some existing regulations are reviewed.
We will continue to press the case for proportionality and effectiveness of measures – for example in relation to risk assessment requirements, by working with the rest of UK Government on the Balance of competences review and with the PM’s EU Business Task Force.
Aside from regulation we also continue to work with other Member States and the European Health and Safety Agency in Bilbao on some of the really intractable problems we share – particularly the toll of work-related ill-health and long latency occupational diseases.
Every review recognised the extent to which Health and Safety is misused as an easy excuse to hide behind.
The Myth Busters Challenge Panel, which we set up in spring 2012, has been a huge success. We have been pleasantly surprised by how many people have used it – and amazed by the cases they have sent us – and the cases just keep on coming in.
Panel members love their job and we are currently in the process of refreshing membership. Our advert on HSE’s website for people interested in becoming panel members attracted many applications (32 from external candidates with 6 existing panel members reapplying).
You will be aware that we have, also taken steps to provide even greater focus of our inspections and interventions on higher risk premises and activities and on poor performers. It is vital that we direct our resources at those most in need of our attention. But we also recognise that those of you who want to do the right thing value HSE’s input and advice and part of our response to the triennial review will be to look at how we might be able to respond to that need, both here in Great Britain and further afield.
As you know, we introduced Fee for Intervention in 2012 – enabling HSE to recover its costs when and where we encounter material breaches which require time and effort to help put right. An independent review of the operation of FFI is currently underway which will also seek to address some of the issues raised by Martin Temple in the Triennial review about concerns and perceptions of unexpected/unintended consequences of FFI on ongoing relationships between HSE and dutyholders.
I mentioned earlier that work place ill health and occupational disease continues to be a challenging area for us all where it is more difficult to make and measure progress.
But, we are focusing more than ever on occupational diseases – and looking to engage others to help us not simply raise awareness but bring about lasting behaviour change to reduce exposures and improve control measures in the workplace.
HSE’s web pages have been updated to promote and share the work that different organisations are undertaking to tackle the burden of occupational disease.
Visit the website and take a look at what activities are already underway. By following a simple registration, you’ll be able to upload your own material to promote the work that your organisation is doing.
Another example of this focus is our next Asbestos campaign.
Whilst building on our previous, successful Hidden Killer campaign, we will employ a different approach when the new behaviour change campaign launches this autumn.
We’ve carried out research to gather solid evidence on which to develop the campaign strategy. We have gained important insights into:
The innovative campaign will include production of asbestos information ‘kits’ to be distributed to trades people at ‘point of sale’ through a commercial partner, and working with suppliers and retailers regularly used by trades people to deliver information and encourage behaviour change under a ‘partnership marketing’ arrangement.
The approach we are taking in the development of materials for the campaign is being rigorously tested with the audience to ensure it works.
There is a key issue here for us all to be aware of – the way we communicate about health and safety needs to change – not just because of changes in the shape of the business world but because the people we all employ respond to different things. I read only last week that several universities are now taking on employees to communicate with students via social media because today’s 18-20 year olds don’t use e-mail any more. That is but one very small example of the pace of change and the challenge we all face in getting our message across to future generations who we, of a certain age, don’t understand.
But, back to the business of HSE. The generality of businesses are already seeing fewer but targeted proactive inspections but equally no industrial sectors are free from regulation, The priority sectors are those with the highest incidence rates of accidents or ill health and those where the evidence clearly shows that inspection is a more effective and efficient intervention approach. Priority sectors will be regularly reviewed and changed if necessary and we will target poor performers in other sectors.
These same principles now apply in Local Authorities. We have developed and introduced the National Code to ensure that HSE's proportionate, risk based approach is applied by local authorities that regulate health and safety in lower risk workplaces.
Let me now cover the subject of the commercialisation of HSE and try to outline what it may mean and what it most definitely does not mean.
The Triennial Review recommended that the HSE and its Health and Safety Laboratory (it is an agency of HSE) should seek to expand their areas of commercial activity. Our Minister, Mike Penning, has already stated publicly that he wants us to go further than that and look at exploiting commercial opportunities throughout HSE.
We are therefore developing a delivery plan that aims to identify our strengths and areas of unique expertise and our systems, and to consider ways of reducing the cost burden on the taxpayer via central Government funding. But this is not about privatising the work of HSE – our minister has been equally clear about that.
We are currently exploring how best to progress the agenda of commercialising more of our services and activities. I mentioned earlier that we have a world-class system – one which other countries around the world are queuing up to emulate. There are real opportunities for us to share our knowledge and knowhow internationally and we are already doing some of it. The benefits to be gained from this meet wider Government purposes, such as promoting UK excellence overseas, and potentially create regulatory regimes in other parts of the world which UK businesses are familiar with working in.
As these opportunities expand we will need to consider an appropriate delivery model for HSE to further grow and establish its commercial work.
This work to establish a more commercial mindset will be a challenge for the organisation. It needs to be properly resourced, we need the right organisational structure to enable us to do it, whilst remembering first and foremost that we are a regulator, and that to remain a world leader in reducing workplace risks means continuing to focus on the day job.
The intent is to realise the value of the intellectual property and knowledge which we create and build in carrying out our role as a regulator by developing a portfolio of products and services which we can offer, in parallel, both nationally and internationally. This provides a means and an opportunity for us to reduce our level of dependence on Government funding whilst continuing to be effective at doing what we are here to do.
We will be able to share more details about our thinking on some of this work soon after the Government publishes the response to the triennial review.
I mentioned that this year is the 40th anniversary of HASWA. To mark the anniversary HSE will be running a two-week programme at the end of July to promote discussion and debate around the positive impact the Act has had on the safety of Britain’s workplaces. The campaign will also provide a great opportunity to look at the future role HSE will play and how we plan to evolve to respond to the challenges that we and the health and safety system face.
My final message to you all is a warning, or perhaps I should say a timely reminder. Some of you will recall that six or seven years ago as we entered this long and very difficult economic period, much concern was being expressed about the potential negative impact that cost cutting and redundancies might have on health and safety performance.
But let me remind you that the evidence we presented back then showed quite clearly that in times of economic downturn, safety performance is not likely to deteriorate but in fact, the danger time is at the point where the economy emerges from recession, when new and inexperienced recruits are introduced into workplaces. That time is now. The challenge for all of you is to think about how you are handling that in your businesses.
Let’s not get carried away with enthusiasm as the economy picks up and overlook the need to ensure that we retain and continue to improve on our world beating health and safety performance.
I will close on that note. I hope I’ve covered everything you expected but no doubt if I haven’t you will make the most of this opportunity now to quiz me on what I have - or have not yet – said.