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Never let the facts get in the way...

Even before I became Chair of HSE I was aware that there are very few people who don’t have an opinion about health and safety. I don’t expect all of those views to coincide with mine and I welcome proper debate among people with different perspectives. What I really find frustrating are people who seize opportunities to express their opinions but use some interesting tactics to mislead their audience into thinking they are being presented with facts.

I attended a conference recently where a speaker from the legal profession asserted that HSE’s ‘dash for cash’ (otherwise known as Fee for Intervention) had completely distorted our priorities. Not only am I struggling to recognise the ‘dash for cash’ handle, but the claim has been clearly disproven by the recent independent review of FFI and our priority areas for proactive inspection were agreed and made public well before FFI started.

So, what of some of the other claims I’ve heard recently?

HSE’s own statistics have been used to question whether we can be regarded as a world leader in health and safety regulation. I will admit to being proud of our system here in GB, but it is the system which we have all created and are part of which matters. The statistics report on what many of us have done working together in preventing death injury and ill health in the workplace but also reminds us all that we still have work to do. But the fact is, what we do achieve is one of the best performances in the world and other regulators around the world come to us for advice on how to improve their systems.

I’ve seen one report which ranked the UK as having one of the highest levels of health and safety risk in the world. It’s easy (but misleading) to arrive at that answer if you base it on absolute numbers of incidences and include countries which grossly under-report and those which have very small populations – as this report did. But it should be obvious to anyone that 50 fatalities in a country of five million people is a significantly worse performance than 100 fatalities in a country of 50 million people. Not so in the methodology of this study, the country of 50 million people would be ranked as being worse than the one with five million! One can only question the point of such a study and its bizarre conclusion.

And then there’s the assertion I’ve read that the USA is questioning whether our safety case approach to regulating major hazards is robust. The US are certainly questioning whether the safety case regime would work for them, but that’s because they start from a different place – a very prescriptive rule (and often adversarial) based approach rather than a goals and outcomes based approach. The shift in approach from one to the other is a huge cultural and mindset change to undertake, but the strength and robustness of the safety case approach is not the issue.

I’m happy to debate these points with anyone who thinks differently, but I want to do it on the basis of real evidence and context, not arguments which are chosen to support a particular prejudice or hidden agenda.

2016-04-13