Somewhere in the UK today a newspaper or website will be carrying a story mocking health and safety. Misrepresenting people like us, who care about saving people’s lives and preventing catastrophes, and presenting us as the ‘killjoys’ who stand in the way of people living their lives and enjoying themselves.
However, last Thursday another newspaper article said this:
“Health and safety regulation is a good thing. The bureaucracy that implements it does an essential job.”
And, “try identifying ostentatiously bad safety regulation and you run into difficulties. Many complaints turn out to be myths or to involve extreme interpretations of sensible guidance.”
The newspaper that published this was The Times, in its ‘Thunderer’ column. What the article shows is some people do get, ‘real health and safety’, they understand its purpose, value and necessity.
If your only source of information was some of the UK’s tabloid press you would no doubt see health and safety as a nuisance - banning children going on school trips, stopping posties and binmen from doing their jobs, preventing proper service for customers in restaurants, shops and many other places. The list of trivia banned in the name of health and safety is endless, and is indeed a far cry from why all of us work in health and safety.
However, it wasn’t the press that invented these myths about health and safety or decided themselves that it is health and safety which stops these things happening. The stories arise because in each and every case someone in the company or organisation involved has told a customer, a client or even in some cases their own employees that these trivial matters are about health and safety.
This is part of a complex puzzle and array of issues which fall under some people’s definition of the health and safety umbrella. I would like you all to think about some of the rules that you encounter in your own workplaces which relate to personnel safety and ask yourself how important they really are. Must people put lids on their coffee cups if they walk around? Are hot drinks banned on stairs and in elevators? Is everyone issued with hi-viz gear and expected to wear it? If so, how do those who really need to, stand out from everyone else? Are hard hats compulsory for everyone, everywhere irrespective of level of risk?
It is easy to see how some of these rules come about. Someone reports a near miss with a coffee spillage on the stairs. The investigation must come up with a recommendation, right? So lids on cups become mandatory and drinks are banned on stairs. It’s easier to have site wide rules about the wearing of protective equipment than to target action at those who are really most at risk, but in doing so – does this lead to unintended consequences or thwart the original intention – like making the key people stand out in their high viz? Or getting them to understand the real risks which matter.
I am very familiar with the arguments for some of these rules. It’s about creating the right safety culture throughout organisations. But that will only be the case if the important stuff is given the right level of attention and the issues are addressed as well as dealing with the many low risk activities which are easy to make rules for. The workforce will not buy into health and safety if they see focus on trivial risks while serious risks are being ignored / not tackled.
We are seeing positive signs that the media and public are starting to get the message – the perception of health and safety is shifting.
But, what we really need is behaviour to change more broadly. We need people working in the country’s many industries to ensure health and safety is managed with focus and proportionality. The time for rolling out health and safety as an easy excuse has ended.
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.
The largest cause of death from occupational disease relates to asbestos and is accountable for 4,000 of these deaths – I will talk about a new campaign planned for 2014 in a moment. A further 8,000 or more deaths are due to cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other serious lung diseases.
So occupational disease is high on HSE’s agenda and we’re committed to reducing these numbers. Going forward we will continue our interventions working with industry stakeholders, targeted inspection initiatives and awareness raising initiatives.
As today’s audience will know the various reviews of health and safety, which have taken place in recent years, 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. They have also identified the need to make it easier for everyone to understand what is really required.
HSE has been working to implement the recommendations from these reviews and to achieve the objectives set out in our business plan;
This focus will continue during 2014 and beyond. But I believe 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.
As I mentioned, next year a new asbestos campaign will launch. This campaign, while building on our previous, successful Hidden Killer campaign, will employ a different approach. 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;
The approach we are taking in the development of materials for the campaign is being rigorously tested with the audience to ensure it works.
The key difference in approach with this new campaign is that rather than just raising awareness it will use the intelligence gathered in the research to focus on helping trades people adopt safe behaviours when dealing with asbestos.
We have made significant progress in overhauling all our guidance and regulations to get them up to date, relevant and accessible.
Over eighty percent of health and safety regulations are either being improved or removed where they are outdated or unnecessary – HSE is modernising and fine-tuning regulation we’re 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.
From 5 September to 30 September 2013 there was over 464,000 separate visitors to the Toolbox. The Health and Safety Made Simple website has now had over one million visitors (it went live back March 2011).
As part of work to revoke unnecessary or redundant Regulations 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.
In 2014 HSE will deliver on a major programme of sector-specific consolidations covering Mines, Explosives, GMOs, Biocides and Petroleum as part of efforts to simplify the Regulatory framework without reducing protections.
DWP intend to provide a progress report very soon outlining the progress made by HSE over the past two years in delivering the Löfstedt recommendations.
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.
I know that you’re due to hear more on the proposed revision of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 (CDM) from the Association for Project Safety’s Richard Habgood later this afternoon. But let me just touch on this now.
This revision forms 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:
The four key areas we propose to consult on changing:
We propose to replace the very detailed and prescriptive competence assessment requirements in CDM with a much more general duty which we hope will reduce reliance on costly and sometimes unhelpful third party competence assurance schemes. The sometimes inappropriate reliance on these schemes can act as a real barrier to small businesses in tendering for work on larger sites, and arguably acts against the growth agenda.
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.
We have involved the Construction Industry Advisory Committee extensively in drawing up these proposals and kept them informed of how our thinking is developing. We have also spoken extensively at industry events and meetings and continue to offer to do so.
Current plans are for the revised Regulations to come into force in April 2015 and formal consultation is expected to start early in 2014.
There are absolutely no plans for any industrial sectors to be free of inspections. Inspections will continue, but they will be 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.
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.
A new code has been launched to improve the targeting of health and safety inspections – ensuring that local authority checks are more focused on serious risks and poor performers.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published the National Local Authority Enforcement Code following a public consultation.
Local authorities are expected to target proactive inspections on high risk activities in specified sectors or on workplaces where intelligence suggests that risks are not being effectively managed. A listing of the activities and sectors suitable for inspection is published along with the Code.
As part of the Government’s commitment to reform the public sector, all public bodies are now subject to regular reviews. An initial review in 2010 resulted in the reform of 500 public bodies and the Government committed to review the remaining bodies at least every three years to make sure that their functions remain necessary, and are appropriate to be delivered independently of Government.
This April a Triennial Review of the HSE was announced.
Martin Temple, Chair of EEF - the Manufacturers Organisation has led the review on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). During the summer, work assessing whether there is a continuing need for HSE’s functions, as well as whether it is complying with the principles of good governance took place. Many stakeholders have been consulted.
The work covers different territory to the Lofstedt and other reviews and we are currently awaiting Martin’s recommendations which will go to our Minister in DWP. We expect this to happen before the end of the year with a Government response likely to follow in the New Year.
HSE welcomed the opportunity to contribute to this review. We look forward to the findings of the report which will no doubt help to shape HSE’s work over the coming months.
Our strategic direction and 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. HSE continues to operate a mixed economy of interventions from partnership working with like-minded organisations through to enforcement where employers have exposed people to significant and unnecessary risks. All of which is reflected in world class health and safety outcomes as shown by the latest statistics on injury and ill health.
But this is not an argument for complacency or the status quo. Rather it is an endorsement of the 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.
Enjoy the rest of this conference.