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Changes to incident reporting and Infoline services

Welcome to the HSE podcast.

In this edition we look at changes to how businesses can report incidents to HSE, the closure of Infoline and improvements being made to the HSE website.

We're pleased without being any way complacent that around two million visitors come to our website every month and that makes us one of the busiest in Government.

But first, here's a round-up of other health and safety news.

Energy giant Shell UK has been ordered to pay 1.24 million pounds in fines and costs after an explosion at its Bacton gas terminal in Norfolk in February 2008.

The blast at the water treatment plant blew the concrete roof off a tank and sucked a nearby drain out of the ground. The investigating HSE inspector said it was only down to luck that nobody was killed or seriously injured.

HSE and the Environment Agency jointly prosecuted the firm over failures at the plant in safety, environmental control and pollution-prevention.

New official statistics show that the number of workers killed in Britain last year has increased.

Provisional figures show there were 171 workplace fatalities between April 2010 and March 2011, compared with 147 the previous year. This was the lowest number on record.

Despite the increase, Britain still has one of the lowest rates of workplace death in Europe.

Health and Safety Minister Chris Grayling is calling on the public, businesses, charities and volunteer groups to help restore common sense to the safety rule book by giving their views on which regulations should be scrapped, simplified or saved as they are.

The Red Tape Challenge is focussing on four themes - general health and safety, major hazard industries, higher risk workplaces and hazardous chemicals and materials.

I asked the Minister whether running the scheme through a website meant he expected a wide response from the public.

Well that's the idea. It's much more informal. If you're being asked to write a complicated document to put to a government review, many people wouldn't do it. But the chance to go on to a website, to highlight the bugbear that you've got so that we can look at that and say right, is there a real point here? Perhaps it's something that doesn't have a basis in law but perhaps it's also something which is a result of a bit of legislation that's gone through that really shouldn't be necessary.

People can give their views at redtapechallenge.cabinetoffice.gov.uk

HSE is encouraging more people to communicate through the HSE dot gov dot UK website and use it as the main source of health and safety information. Later in this podcast we'll be talking to Kenny MacDonald from HSE online about improvements to the site. But first we speak to Trevor Carlile, HSE's director of strategy.

Trevor there era two major changes afoot that will affect businesses. Can we talk first about the changes to the way in which businesses report incidents. HSE's decided to make the move to predominantly web-based system. Why this move?

Yes, Health and Safety Executive are moving towards a predominantly web-based system and the driver for doing this is really the cross-government drive for greater efficiencies across the public sector.

So what can employers still report by phone?

Well they'll still be able to report major and fatal accidents. It's just the remainder that we're looking at, which is obviously the bulk to come in through the online system.

So what's that going to mean to businesses, what changes will they see?

What they will see coming out in the future is the ability to report online through an interactive, intuitive online form RIDDOR incidents, which includes reporting of injuries, dangerous occurrences, cases of disease. There is a difference between reporting the routine RIDDORS - the 3-7 days as opposed to fatal and major accidents.

What about people who have concerns about dangerous practices that go on in their workplaces, how they will be able to report those?

We recognise and want to retain the ability to be able to receive information around complaints in the workplace and at the moment we're going through a review of how we might do that in the future.

Trevor, I know you've had a lot of queries around reporting incidents via email, what's the current situation with that?

Okay, so at the moment, people can report via email, via post, via fax or telephone. It's worth bearing in mind that less than 15% of people report via email but what we've picked up from businesses is that they've currently got their email systems organised in a way that feeds their own internal systems as well as us, that wouldn't fit with the current online reporting. So having recognised this we're working with a number of these organisations to look at how we might accommodate that and improve the system.

One of the most frequently asked questions that you've had, I understand, is what happens the health and safety posters given that the information on those will now be out of date?

Yes, we're looking at that for the new posters that come out that they will be amended so that they will be relevant and they will give the new information that's required to report. With the old ones we're not expecting people to discard these, we're looking at how we might amend these.

Now the other big changes that's going to affect businesses is that the infoline service will cease at the end of September this year. Isn't this just a money saving measure?

Well, yes, it will save money. That's part of the driver for this. But what's very interesting about this, is that when an individual rings in to gain information from the infoline, all they're really doing is going to a middleman who's accessing the internet on their behalf and gaining the same information they could have got themselves by going straight to the internet. At the moment we have a hundred times more people visiting the website than we do ringing in on infoline, we have 26 million visits to our website currently and it's rated at 93% very good or good by the people who use the website. Infoline and the website are not the only sources of information regarding health and safety. We have a number of publications and guidance available where that information can also be sought. Should they go on the web and not be able to find the information they require the likelihood is that it isn't something that the Health and Safety Executive is responsible for. And we have just put a new page on the website that details more clearly what we are responsible for and what we're not responsible for, to help people in that area. If, after that they're looking for more bespoke advice, rather than information, that is something that infoline never provided in the first place. However, there are opportunities for them to go to commercial health and safety advice phone services and they can also go to reputable health and safety consultants, which are available via oshcr.org.

That's Trevor Carlile, HSE's director of strategy. Now as Trevor indicated, the closure of infoline puts greater emphasis on the website and work is now underway to make it even easier for businesses to find the information they need. I'm joined now by Kenny MacDonald, who heads up HSE's online services. Kenny, what are the main improvements that you're making?

Well the main improvements are about making it much easier for a business to first of all find our site, to understand how to comply with the law, to recommend our guidance to others, to keep up with change, to let us know of course how we can improve in the future. There's a review of guidance under way in HSE at the moment and that's going to help a lot. And there's a link on our home page now that explains what HSE's responsible for and lists other organisations that may be able to help you.

What do you say to people who are worried that although the information may be there, they won't be able to find it, perhaps they don't know the right search terms to put into the search box, that kind of thing?

Well, search is one important element of usability. More than 60% of our visitors already arrive via Google and we use Google as our website search engine. If you search for big topics like asbestos, our Google Rankings are really high and often beat some of the big sites like Wikipedia, DirectGov and so on. But if you search for less obvious but still important terms then it's not so effective. So clearly we're doing some things right but we aim to improve search rankings by using some simple attics like anticipating the terms people use to find our site and including those in titles and headings and so on. More generally we treat usability and accessibility as a very high priority and in April this year I'm pleased to say that HSE gained Abilitynet Accredited Plus Trust Mark. This accessibility accreditation is unlike any other in that it confirms that our website is not only accessible in theory but in practice too.

So you've got the Trust Mark already but obviously as the infoline closes more people will be going to the website. Will it be up to the challenge?

Well, we're pleased without being in anyway complacent that around 2 million visitors come to our website every month and that makes us one of the busiest in government. And one of our most recent customer satisfaction surveys rated the site pretty highly - 93% said their overall opinion was very good or good. So we already do some important things pretty well, but we'll continue with the attitude that we can take advantage of lots of low cost opportunities to improve. I've give you a couple of examples. We currently hold about 300 thousand subscriptions to our 'what's new' service. That helps people keep in touch with change by email, podcast and news feeds. And the effect of these is that we already get 1 in 12 of our visits from these services. However, so far the service only covers 25% of the topics on our site. We need to extend it to everything over the next twelve months.

You've spoken there about the importance of search and the need to get search terms right, but it's fair to say that health and safety is a pretty broad field and if someone doesn't know where to start it can be confusing, can't it?

Well it can but the site caters for around 70 industries and the same number of major health and safety topics. and every one of these industries and topics has its own microsite which we're reviewing over the next few months and then each site will contain a copy of the Health and Safety Made Simple guidance, which is a great starting point for small businesses and it will also have the top and most frequently asked questions that these people are likely to ask in their area of interest.

So I guess the challenge for you is to put yourself in the shoes of the people who are coming to you?

Yes, and we've already done that through our work with Abilitynet to get the accreditation.

Kenny MacDonald, who heads up HSE's online services, thank you very much.

You can find a transcript of this podcast at hse.gov.uk/podcasts

And if you've anything to say on the subjects we've covered today then let us know at hse.gov.uk/podcasts or click on the link at the bottom of any HSE web page.

Updated 2011-07-13