Good morning. Thank you for inviting me back to speak again at the Whitehall and Industry Group Briefing. I want to talk to you about where HSE stands today in this world of constant change, 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 earlier this month, 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.
Last year the triennial review of HSE was published, followed by the government response. This follows on from a number of health and safety reviews in recent years. None of the reviews have found reason to question the fundamentals of HSE’s role or how it operates. But we recognise that like every organisation we must always strive to do better. And recommendations have been made to improve the health and safety system further, primarily to make it as straightforward as possible for dutyholders to successfully recognise and deliver what is needed.
We are making excellent progress with delivering on the recommendations, updating processes in key areas such as:
We have a new Minister, Lord Freud, and a new Chief Executive, Richard Judge, was appointed in November. We are in the process of revising HSE’s 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.
Our clear strategic intent within HSE is to continue 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.
What does unlocking HSE’s commercial potential mean? It is commercialisation of our knowledge and expertise alongside continuing 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 world we will be supporting higher standards of protection for workers the world over. We will also be projecting British influence abroad and providing a competitive advantage to British businesses that are already familiar with operating under our regulatory framework.
One of the features of HSE which makes it special/unique is the combination of the Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL), an agency of HSE, and HSE itself. HSL provides forensic expertise to HSE in the investigation of incidents. That science based evidence is often crucial to bringing successful enforcement action. But that science based knowledge also enables the whole organisation to learn and that learning goes into the development of new policies and new and revised regulations.
HSE’s frontline inspectors identify challenges which exist in workplaces in many different sectors – ranging from dust and gas exhaust ventilation design, infection control and ergonomics – all areas where we can and do commission research and scientific solutions from HSL – all of this work is aimed at prevention not investigation after an incident. It is this complex mix of interactions between HSE and HSL that creates a unique knowledge and expertise base which we are now looking at ways to share more broadly.
One such example is knowledge and expertise related to land use planning around major hazards sites. We already have a role as a statutory consultee when developments are planned close to a large COMAH site. But our belief is that there is a more valuable and more constructive role that we can play earlier in the process that is likely to lead to better outcomes for everyone.
HSE is currently consulted fairly late on in the planning process, when developments are at an advanced stage. If we have issues or questions this can cause delays in getting the development built. So we are looking at offering developers the chance to buy our technical input early on in the process so issues can be discussed and addressed and design modifications made, which will hopefully avoid any delays further down the line. This will accelerate the approvals process and reposition our knowledge input as part of the solution rather than a late stage block in the process.
GB has an excellent global reputation for its safety performance and our regulatory system is seen as key to that. Other countries want to emulate our system. The process of engagement overseas takes time to build and this diagram illustrates the different levels of engagement which are possible.
Sharing what we have learned with others creates the potential to save lives elsewhere in the
So that is the rationale for unlocking HSE’s commercial potential to create a business model that can retain its expertise and abilities, rather than to simply keep cutting its cloth further and further as public sector funding continues to be squeezed. There is every reason to expect further reductions post the general Election in May – whatever the outcome. So to remain a strong regulator and maintain our resource and expertise levels we have to adapt our business model. It is no different for us than it is for any of you in your organisations – change and adaptation is on-going, not a one off.
Cost recovery for large tranches of our work is not new. We have been cost recovering in the on and off shore major hazards industries for more than a decade. Two years ago, we extended that process with the introduction of Fee for Intervention scheme. To recover more of the cost of regulation from those that create the risk – in this case, those who were found to be in material breach during an inspection visit.
FFI has now been reviewed by an independent panel who have concluded that whilst there are still a few challenges, FFI has been effective in shifting cost from the public purse to those who break health and safety laws. It is also clear that FFI has delivered greater consistency of regulatory decision. I have always said that those who do the right thing have nothing to fear and I hope that is becoming more self-evident with the passage of time. I am realistic enough to know that FFI will never be universally welcomed and some may continue to press for it to go away, but the review has confirmed that it is working and it is here to stay. These things don’t just bridge the funding gap, they are the right things to do. They will make us a better regulator.
At HSE, we need to help protect the image of health and safety from those who misinterpret it or worse still use it as an expedient excuse for doing something unpopular.
To tackle this, we set up the Myth Busters Challenge Panel in 2012 to address instances where members of the public believe they have been on the receiving end of mystifying 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 Myth Busters Challenge 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%).
So my 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. We want people to be honest – giving health and safety the blame is lazy and unhelpful. Getting rid of over-the-top decisions blamed on health and safety will actually improve the service customers receive.
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 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.
Our guidance on Successful Health and Safety Management – commonly referred to as HSG65 - 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.
We have also embarked upon a new and quite different campaign on asbestos. This time our aim is to go beyond awareness raising and actually get people to change their behaviour. This involves very different methodologies. Working with point of sale traders and providing apps for the current generation of tradespeople
Talking about asbestos is a good lead-in to a broader key area of focus for us – Occupational Health. We often focus on the number of deaths which occur each year due to industrial accidents – last year the number was 133. But compare that to the number of premature deaths which can be directly attributed to harm to health caused in the workplace which is in excess of 13,000 every year. The focus of our attention is on occupational cancers and lung diseases.
This year we will be implementing significant 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 closely and carefully at how we better respond to operational needs in Scotland from within a reserved GB wide HSE.
It’s pretty clear to me that it is going to be a busy year.
HSE has to continue to move forward as a regulator and as a business. We are confident that the changes we have made and those that we plan to make are the right thing for us to do – they make sense if we are to stay as a world class regulator. If the UK is to remain one of the safest places in the world to work we need to make these changes. No organisation I know of has ever maintained a position as world leading by standing still – our hard won performance on Health and safety in Great Britain is no different. I am immensely proud of what we have all collectively achieved over the last 40 years and I am determined to set this organisation on the right course for the next 40. We need to work in partnership with all of you to make this happen.