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Speech to Westminster Briefing, The House Magazine, 15 September 2011

Judith Hackitt CBE, HSE Chair

Good Health and Safety, Good for Everyone?

Good morning and thank you to the organisers for inviting me to speak today. The last opportunity I had to address an event organised by Westminster Briefing was on the theme of: 'The future of health and safety from HSE's perspective'. That was in December last year and came shortly after the publication of Common Sense; Common Safet - which I'm sure you're all very familiar with. I'm sure you're equally aware of the further announcements that have been made since then and in particular, the release of Good Health and Safety Good for Everyone by our minister Chris Grayling in the spring.

Today, I want to use my time to reflect on these and to explain the role of the Health and Safety Executive in implementing the Government's programme of work for health and safety. I will start with Common Sense; Common Safety by bringing you up to date on the progress HSE has been making over the course of the last year to implement the recommendations that fall to it to deliver. I'll then set out how this and our other work relates to Good Health and Safety Good for Everyone but I will confine my remarks to those changes that have most immediate impact on HSE and the way we carry out our role. I will leave James Wolfe to cover the review of legislation and the red tape challenge in full later.

But before I do all that I want to do what I make a habit of doing at events like this and that is to remind people of some of the constants.

Principally, this is to emphasise that the importance of workplace health and safety has not changed. Preventing death, serious injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work activities remains front and centre as the core mission of what all those of us who are part of the health and safety system do - not just what HSE does. So it is important to remember that we are talking about reforming how HSE carries out its work - our role - the what has not changed

When the Board of HSE started work on its new strategy for health and safety in Great Britain back in 2008, we were aware that in developing it and resetting the direction of travel we needed, as far as possible, to ensure that it would remain relevant for a number of years even if circumstances and situations changed.

Following the publication of Common Sense; Common Safety back in October, the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review and the Ministerial announcement on the health and safety system in March - we've looked again and the strategy remains relevant and continues to be our overall road map.

In fact the strategy has offered a very sound basis on which to adopt the recommendations that have been assigned to us and to consider how to meet the requirements placed on us in HSE and on our LA partners as a result of the spending review and the broader government work programme.

But more importantly, the whole change of approach indicated by the Coalition Government really reinforces the message that others need to be part of the solution. It underlines the need to improve the health and safety system, it emphasises the need to draw the distinction between real health and safety risks, which threaten serious harm to people in the workplace, and the other types of risk-averse behaviour that people mistake for health and safety but in reality is much more to do with a compensation culture or mentality.

Many of us have been aware for some time of the damage that this nonsense was doing to the real agenda. It is therefore very welcome to have had strong Government support for this approach - demonstrated most recently by our Minister's media work focussing on the 'top ten health and safety myths of 2011' - given that many of the issues to be addressed fall outside of our remit as workplace health and safety regulators.

But let's now take a look at some of the specific recommendations in Common Sense; Common Safety which HSE is progressing.

At the time of the publication of the report we launched the first of our simple to use online risk assessments for low risk businesses that covered offices. We subsequently launched further guides covering classrooms and shops and these have all been well received.

Use of the risk assessment tool requires people to consider whether or not their shop, office or classroom is low risk. Higher risk premises can still use the simplified risk assessment tool as a first step and the tool will also prompt them to give further, more detailed, consideration to any specific higher risks which they identify during the process.

If businesses decide that they do not have all of the expertise they need to assess and manage the risks they identify in their business, they may decide to seek expert advice. We have worked hard with others to develop the Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register. You'll be discussing this topic later in the day so it's enough for me to say that HSE is very grateful to the many professional bodies that have helped to deliver this initiative and it's another important step which is consistent with the strategy.

Producing guidance has always been a key part of HSE's role and we remain committed to producing clear guidance. The current climate makes it even more important for us all to focus on real risks and proportionate action, not overdoing things for little or no benefit.  Since the launch of Common Sense; Common Safety we have produced Health and Safety Made Simple and if you want to see another example of HSE simplifying things I'd suggest you read the high-level statement we published on School Trips in July. We have adopted a clear stance in encouraging schools and their staff to feel empowered and enabled to do what we all know is of great benefit to pupils. You will be seeing more of this easier to read, easier to navigate kind of approach in HSE guidance in future. We are taking forward a substantial piece of work at the moment to review all of our guidance to ensure it offers a practical, proportionate approach for organisations to help them comply with health and safety law. I have said to audiences like this on previous occasions that I believe that guidance is an area where companies, trade associations, public sector bodies, Trades Unions and others can come together, wherever it's appropriate to produce industry or sector specific guidance that follows these same principles of proportionality and practicality and might be better written in language that meets their organisations' needs.

Following public consultation of the recommendation to extend the period for reporting of RIDDOR incidents from three to seven days, a recent HSE board meeting has recommended to the Minister the change to the threshold as proposed in addition to an extension in the deadline for reporting injuries that fall into the criteria to 15 days from the current 10. It will still be necessary for organisations to keep their own record of over 3 day incidents using the information internally to monitor health and safety performance. The minister has agreed the recommendation and once the amendment has been made HSE has committed to monitoring its effect to assess how it works in practice.

So, having talked about how we are implementing the recommendations contained in Common Sense; Common Safety that fall to us to deliver and the progress we've made, now let me turn to some other things that are impacting on the health and safety system.

I want to concentrate on the key elements in Good Health and Safety Good for Everyone which relate to how HSE will be changing its approach in the light of the Comprehensive Spending review. This will include important plans to change the number of proactive inspections HSE carries out by focussing more on those areas that pose a higher risk of death or injury and the intention to seek to recover our costs from those organisations that choose to gain competitive advantage by flouting health and safety law.

The reduction in HSE's Government funding has been well publicised and much debate has already taken place, especially in the Health and Safety trade press. I have used many conferences recently to explain what it will actually mean in practice and to provide some context but for the sake of clarity let me now repeat some of those principles.

It is true that we will see a reduction of some 35 per cent in our Government funding over the next four years. But all of HSE's work in the major hazards area is already fully cost recovered and represents approximately one third of HSE's total budget. We are looking at ways to modernise and streamline our ways of working across the whole of HSE.

Our reactive work in response to incidents and complaints received will not change. Reactive work – including taking enforcement action wherever it's warranted – will continue unaffected, based on our well established incident selection criteria and complaints system.

What the reductions will mean more broadly for proactive inspections is that we will take an even more focussed approach to identifying those activities which really matter and where we have the greatest impact. Inspection has always been one of several ways in which we interact with dutyholders, and we will continue to seek out the most effective means of interaction for any given sector or company. We will need to target proactive inspection even more on the basis of risk and consider the likely cost-effectiveness of inspection compared to other forms of proactive intervention, which we know can and do work more effectively in some sectors.

The risk profile and performance of some sectors means proactive inspection will remain at their current level. There will be other sectors or issues where we'll be developing other interactions further - and we will be discussing this with stakeholders as our plans evolve.

We will need to monitor the impact and make changes as we proceed on the basis of experience and performance.

The final part of the picture I now want to touch briefly on Fee for Intervention.

We are currently consulting on a proposal to recover our costs from those who do not manage effectively the risks that they create. The intention is that those who are found not to be compliant with the law during an inspection should be charged for the work that HSE has to do to ensure action is taken to address the material fault. We believe that this approach is fair and equitable. The vast majority of businesses who already do the right thing will not be impacted by this in any way but those who take short cuts and avoid taking action until we intervene will incur a fee. This is a way of recognising those who do the right things whilst at the same time HSE getting tougher with those non-compliant businesses.

The public consultation process started in July and will close next month. Depending on the comments the consultation attracts it is expected that a pilot period will commence in October so that the new ways of working can be tested in practice. If everything goes according to plan by April 2012 we expect to be in a position to formally introduce the regime.

Good Health and Safety, Good for Everyone, also announced the Government's decision to set up an independent review of health and safety legislation. This is being carried out by a panel of independent advisors, chaired by Professor Ragnar Löfstedt. The review is considering the opportunities for reducing health and safety legislation. It is focused specifically on statutory instruments - about 200 exist - that HSE and our LA partners enforce rather than on the HSWA itself. It is expected that the report will be completed and published in October. In parallel to this the government is also carrying out what is being called the 'Red Tape Challenge'. I know James [Wolfe] and Mary [Boughton] will be discussing this item after the coffee break but I will say that HSE welcomes the opportunities which such independent reviews provide for an objective assessment on how we are all delivering our responsibilities and for receiving comments and feedback on how regulations impact on that. It is a means to ensure that regulation which has evolved over many years continues to be relevant, common sense, proportionate to the risk and easy to navigate.

As I've spoken I hope that you have seen a strong theme emerging. An abiding principle underpinning the way HSE carries out its work has been to provide advice and guidance to businesses and organisations so that they can get on with their undertakings whilst also managing the risks this might create to workers or to others as necessary. Whenever it's appropriate to update or change our approach so that our interventions remain effective – for instance, to respond to new technologies or exploit better means of communication – we continue to be eager to implement these. But seeking to do this and giving a helping hand to businesses to meet their responsibilities in the process doesn't equate to a diminishing of standards – it should mean more people are doing what they are morally and legally obliged to do. And more often than not doing it more effectively and efficiently as a consequence.

So, in summary, there is a good deal of change going on in the world of health and safety. We are seeing a change of culture which was given a substantial boost initially by Common Sense; Common Safety and which now continues under Good Health and Safety, Good for Everyone. We are committed to following through on the relevant recommendations for HSE. Our strategy does remain our road map, throughout this process. We see no need to change course at the strategic level, but we are committed to reviewing how we do what we do and improving where we can. If anything the current climate only serves to emphasise one of the key messages of the strategy namely; the important role that others have to play in leading health and safety and being part of the solution.

HSE will continue to do what we do, do it well and to the best of our ability. We have a good health and safety system and a record to be proud of in the UK. We must all work hard to keep that record, but the system must evolve in changing times.

(Check against delivery).

Updated 2011-11-28