Good morning and thank you for inviting me to speak here today. I would like to bring you up to date on the Health and Safety Executive’s work and developments in health and safety legislation.
Much of the of commentary regarding reviews of HSE has referred to the amount of regulatory reform that they have triggered. However, all the reviews have 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. It is certainly not intended to reduce levels of protection.
HSE is focussing its efforts on successfully implementing recommendations that came out the reviews. We are also continuing to work towards achieving the objectives set out in our business plan;
Compared to the previous year, HSE’s annual statistics for 2012/13 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 remains a huge problem. Past exposures to harmful substances at work cause over an estimated 12,000 deaths per year.
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.
We have seen some positive signs that perceptions of health and safety are changing for the better. There has been a shift in the media’s reporting too with more articles calling out the misuse of health and safety law. The Mythbusters Challenge Panel has helped us make a real difference in this respect.
But we must be vigilant and tackle the cause of these stories. That requires people from all industries thinking about whether they as individuals and/or their organisations are contributing 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.
I will be happy to answer questions later but first I thought that I would provide you with an update on four key areas:
Our next Asbestos campaign is due to launch later this year. Whilst building on our previous, successful Hidden Killer campaign, we will employ a different approach when the new campaign kicks off. HSE has carried out up-to-date audience research to gather solid evidence on which to develop the campaign strategy.
We now 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 will focus on changing behaviours – helping trades people adopt safe ways of dealing with asbestos.
We have made significant progress in overhauling all of our guidance and regulations to make them up to date, relevant and accessible. 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. Which is why HSE’s revamped 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 has been 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 and 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 reform and update to come this year. HSE will seek to repeal the Offices, Shops and 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.
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.
Local Authorities have an important part to play in ensuring the effective and proportionate management of risks by businesses, and their interventions should be targeted on higher risk activities, businesses and sectors.
The Code provides a principle-based framework that recognises the respective roles of business and the regulator in the management of risk. It sets out a risk-based approach to be followed by LA regulators that will provide business with a consistency of approach.
It should improve the targeting of health and safety inspections – ensuring that local authority checks are more focused on serious risks and poor performers. This approach should also free up resources and facilitate the provision of advisory visits, allowing LAs to contribute to the delivering the growth agenda.
Triennial Reviews are a requirement of all arms-length bodies such as HSE.
Led by Martin Temple, Chair of EEF – the manufacturers’ organisation, the review examined HSE's status as a public body.
It was published three weeks ago on January 9th and concluded that HSE should continue to operate as an executive NDPB (Non-Departmental Public Body) and that all of its functions should be retained.
It also collected views from a wide array of HSE's stakeholders and I am pleased to say it encountered near-universal praise for the work of HSE.
The Review did identify some areas where it believed HSE could improve the way it delivered some of its functions or interacted with other regulators. These include:
It also highlighted areas where HSE had potential for generating income from commercial sources and arrangements for developing these options, including HSE's governance, are being reviewed as a priority.
These recommendations were welcomed by our Minister, who has also indicated which areas of the Review’s findings he wishes to see taken forward as priorities.
HSE is currently reviewing the report's recommendations in detail and will be providing advice to the Government on how they might best be taken forward.
The Government intends to publish its formal response to the Review in April 2014 although we will begin work on implementation of some of the recommendations in advance of that response.
HSE’s overall strategic direction and the goals we seek to achieve are constants. And, there are promising signs. It seems the tide may be turning on the way health and safety is perceived with the Mythbusters Challenge panel continuing to expose the real reasons behind the myths.
The legislative and guidance framework is now simpler, clearer, more accessible and relevant to the end users. There are further changes ahead but that doesn’t make HSE any different from any other organisation.
The Triennial Review has affirmed much of what we do but also identified new opportunities for the future as well as some fine-tuning that we need to do. We are planning to appoint a project director to help us implement some of these recommendations and we will also be re-looking at the skill set required of the Chief Executive for HSE in light of the recommendations.
Given that 2014 marks the 40th anniversary of HSWA and also that we are now coming up for five 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 prosperity for the future.
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.