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Health and safety made simple

Welcome to the HSE podcast

This month we'll be looking at a new range of tools designed to make health and safety simpler for small businesses. We'll be talking to Employment Minister Chris Grayling about a new online directory of health and safety consultants.

What we want to do is make sure that businesses are advised on the basis of what the law actually says, rather than what wild rumour sometimes suggests it says.

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

Employment minister Chris Grayling has announced a package of changes to Britain's health and safety system, designed to support the Government's growth agenda and to ease regulatory burdens on business.

Under the plans, health and safety inspections will be concentrated on high risk sites and industries as well as those employers who put the safety of their staff and the public at risk. Employers who endanger public and employee safety will have to pay an intervention fee for the regulator's involvement and there will be an independent review of existing health and safety legislation.

A new register of qualified consultants was also announced alongside a new online package on HSE's website to help small and low risk employers find all the help they need on basic health and safety management in one place. More on these later...

Mike Weightman, the UK's chief nuclear inspector, is preparing a report on the implications of the nuclear crisis in Japan for British atomic energy.

He has been asked by Government to provide a report on the implications and lessons to be learned following the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, which threatened the integrity of the reactors at Fukushima and their safety systems.

Dr Weightman has said that the UK's nuclear power reactors are robust against reasonably foreseen external hazards. He added that the UK had never seen such extreme natural disasters as the one seen in Japan and were not likely in the future.

An interim report is due in May with a full report by September.

Retail giant Arcadia and a shopfitting firm have been fined after construction workers were exposed to potentially deadly asbestos fibres at the Topshop store in Liverpool in 2008.

Liverpool Magistrates' Court heard that workers were exposed as they removed air conditioning, sprinklers and other equipment next to ceiling beams that had been coated with sprayed asbestos.

The refurbishment work was allowed to go ahead despite a survey identifying that asbestos was present. Attempts were made initially to seal off access to the first floor of the building when the sprayed asbestos was disturbed, but work continued elsewhere in the six-story building, which also houses Topman and Miss Selfridge. Arcadia Group Ltd was fined £5,000. Vincents (Shopfitters) Ltd, was fined £10,000.

HSE's launched a package of online tools designed to make health and safety simpler for small and low-risk businesses. At the heart of the suite of tools is an online directory set up by professional bodies from across the health and safety sector and supported by HSE. When Employment Minister Chris Grayling visited HSE's headquarters in Bootle recently, we took the opportunity to ask him about how the new register helps businesses find the right health and safety consultant for them.

Minister, why is this register necessary?

I think it's all about ensuring that the quality of advice that is available to those who need it, to those who have health and safety issues in their workplace that they want guidance for that they have access to quality advice and they know it's quality advice. We all know there are those out there who perhaps offer a service without necessarily having the expertise to deliver it. What we want to do is make sure that business are advised on the basis of what the law actually says, rather than what wild rumour sometimes suggests it says.

So how will this work?

Well I hope we've got somewhere now that the business community can turn to as a reference point to say is this person somebody who is experienced, who has the capability of doing the job, who can give me the advice I need, who's going to be good value for money and above all who's going to make sure that I only do what I have to do and not what a consultant who is looking to earn as much money as they might be able to is going to try and persuade me to do. What we've got to try and do is get away from a situation where you have consultants out there who need to advise their clients to do more and more and more just to earn money. What we want is professionals who advise their clients of what they have to do, what is absolutely necessary to preserve the quality of health and safety in their workplace and the reputation of their organisations and not to have them wasting their time and their money chasing after things that just aren't necessary.

So what are the benefits to consultants of joining this register?

Well I think it's about knowing that when you go and approach a company that you might work with that you have credentials to offer that they will respect and trust. If you're a business, taking a tough decision about spending - money is never easy to come by or readily available if you're building a small business - then you want to know that what you're spending your money on has the right level of quality. And so I think the benefit of being on this register is being able to say to would-be client with some authority I can offer you the right advice and you can trust me to offer you the right advice.

And what about the benefits to business themselves?

Well my view is that good health and safety is good for business because no business has a real prospect of winning business or attracting customers if it has a lousy health and safety record. At the same time it's really important that we don't have businesses jumping through hoops that they don't need to jump through at a time when money is short and time is tight. And so it's about getting it right. I want a health and safety regime that is rooted in common sense, that recognises that it's good for business to look after employees but also recognises that it's very bad for business if we pile on bureaucracy after bureaucracy that is just not needed.

Is there a danger because of the economic situation that small businesses might be tempted to sideline health and safety? What would your advice be to them?

Well my advice to any small business thinking about the safety of its employees would be if you don't do the right thing it can destroy your business overnight. So this is something you need to worry about. Your job is to make sure that you provide the right kind of environment for your people to work in. Our job is to make sure that the system interferes as little as possible and is only there really to step in if you get something badly wrong.

How will you judge if the register has been a success?

Well I think we'll see if it's been a success if we see a reduction in the amount of unnecessary spending by business on health and safety reports and guidelines and policies that are just not required in law. If the business community sees health and safety as becoming less of a hassle to them but at the same time we see quality standards maintained and that's what this is all about and what I hope the people on the register will deliver.

Employment Minister Chris Grayling there, talking about the Occupational Safety and Heath Consultants Register. There'll be details on how you can access the register at the end of the podcast, but now we're joined by Kate Haire from HSE who was instrumental in developing the directory. Kate, we've heard the Minister talking about how important it is for businesses to get this right, but why do small businesses in particular need this support?

Well much of the health and safety regulation that we have in place, for example the management of health and safety at work regulations, sets out employers' obligations in a goal-setting form, showing what must be achieved but not necessarily how it's done. That has its benefits in that it provides flexibility for employers in how they control risks that they identify, however snail businesses can find this goal-based approach difficult to apply. Therefore the objective for HSE has been to find new ways to help SMEs to find new ways to understand how to comply with health and safety laws in a proportionate way to the risks that are created by their work activities.

So who have you been working with to develop the package to make sure that it fits with what these small and medium enterprises actually need?

So in terms of the Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register we've worked closely with the professional bodies, both those of whom have members who are eligible to be on the register but also those independent bodies such as RoSPA and the British Safety Council. In terms of our specific guidance for small and medium businesses, the Health and Safety Made Simple product, we worked closely with members of HSE's small business trade association forum but also with local businesses in the North West area to try and make sure the approach we were taking and the language we were using was appropriate for small businesses.

So that was really a good opportunity for you to do it for real and to pilot it with those businesses there in the North West who are out there working every single day?

Absolutely, yes. And they were valuable in terms of providing input into the actual design of the product and in terms of the language so that small businesses can get to grips with it and it'll help them to comply.

So give me an idea of what else is there, we've got the register, we've talked about that. We've also got Health and Safety Made Simple, and that's a kind of website that takes people through it step by step?

It is, that's right. It quickly takes businesses through their basic health and safety duties, describing what they need to do and how they need to do it. It acts as an entry point for those who are seeking help with health and safety duties but also includes signposts for users who want more detailed information and guidance and being on a web basis it's quite easy to click through to different topics but there's also the ability to download a pdf version of the information if, as we know, some small businesses prefer to use hard copy material.

So these tools, we're describing them as a suite of tools, they do all fit together, they're designed to fit together?

They do. Health and Safety Made Simple shows a small business what they need to do in terms of the basic requirements. And then essentially the risk assessment tools build on that information around risk management showing businesses the types of steps they need to take and what a good enough record looks like. The aim being to show that risk assessment isn't necessarily difficult and that businesses can do it without needing to buy external advice. However, if having considered the information contained within those tools they can then go to the register if they find that they do need some external support with what they're doing and they can be reassured that they'll get good quality, proportionate health and safety advice by using the register.

It can be a bit confusing for new businesses though, can't it? Let's say that I'm a new business, I'm just setting up, I'm getting everything in place that I need. Where should I start? What's the first thing I need to do in terms of health and safety?

The best a small business can do is visit HSE's website and start with Health and Safety Made Simple. If a business gets those basics in place they can build on that as they go forward and it really does provide the foundations for them.

That's Kate Haire from HSE. The Health and Safety Made Simple guides can be found at hse.gov.uk/simple-health-safety and the OSHCR register can be found at www.oshcr.org.

Visit the transcript for this podcast episode at hse.gov.uk/podcasts for more information on the subject discussed.

If you've got anything to say about the new package of tools for small businesses, visit hse.gov.uk/podcasts or click on the feedback link at the bottom of any HSE webpage.

Updated 2011-03-31