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RR785 - Improving health and safety: An analysis of HSE’s risk communication in the 21st century

What constitutes state-of-the-art risk communication? Which practices may be considered anachronistic? Does HSE use the most effective means to communicate risks? Which theories and tools are most apposite for the appraisal of HSE’s risk communication? What policy recommendations would help the Executive to improve its performance in this area? To answer these crucial questions this report develops an in-depth analysis of HSE’s communication practices. The researchers explore HSE’s risk communication in two specific cases: that of the Buncefield oil storage incident of 2005 and that of the proposed development at the Oval cricket ground in London. The researchers conducted face-to-face interviews of the critical actors involved in each case. These interviews support a robust qualitative analysis of current risk communication practices. The analysis employs the latest theoretical and empirical knowledge from the academic discipline of risk communication. The authors conclude that the HSE has engaged third parties successfully to develop a proactive risk communication when faced with a major incident. For most decisions, however, HSE still relies on communication practices derived from the consensual, expert-led model with which the Executive operates. The authors formulate five critical recommendations to adapt HSE’s risk communication towards a more proactive model.

This report and the work it describes were funded by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Its contents, including any opinions and/or conclusions expressed, are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect HSE policy.

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Updated 2010-03-19