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Public services sector strategy 2012-15

Sector description

Public service work activities have the potential to affect everyone delivering or using these services. This strategy therefore has a twin focus: to protect both workers and the public from risks arising from work activities of this sector.

The sector is dominated by larger employers but there are increasing numbers of smaller providers who do not necessarily have the same resources, understanding, networks or engagement.

Workers are generally highly competent and professional. Across most of the sector, there are good arrangements for induction and training, and ready access to quality in-house advice. While formal worker involvement is weaker in some subsectors, in most the arrangements are well established and employers, trade unions and other representatives generally collaborate.

Reductions in public spending have had a direct impact on the resources and scope of public service provision, and there have been fundamental structural changes to the commissioning and delivery of services. These are significant factors and present opportunities and challenges to ensure health and safety is embedded in the delivery of public services.

Key stakeholders

Safety and health issues

Overall accident trends are consistent with the 'all-industry average', with higher rates of some work-related ill health (musculoskeletal disorders, dermatitis, and stress). The sector is generally aware of the importance of work-related ill health. Certain subsectors (eg Emergency services, Health care) record significantly higher rates of injury and ill health.

Although each subsector has its own health and safety issues, many of the root causes are common across the sector as a whole:

Many of the challenges in this sector do not simply relate to high injury or ill health rates, but arise from issues such as:

Even though not directly linked to accident / ill-health reductions, these issues are central to rebuilding the 'health and safety brand', effective future regulation and ensuring sensible and proportionate approaches to health and safety.

Health and social care

Local government

Police and Fire & Rescue Services


Central and devolved Government departments

Legislation and regulation

HSE has enforcement responsibility for the majority of the sector, although local authorities enforce health and safety legislation in residential care and the CQC (in England) will assume greater regulatory powers in 2015. Certain dutyholders (eg MoD and Ministry of Justice) have Crown immunity (ie they are subject only to the administrative sanctions of Crown censure) and cannot be prosecuted for health and safety offences in the courts.

Strategic regulatory and sector approach

Due to the nature of the risks, and the size, complexity and responsibilities of many organisations across the sector, there is a need for HSE to target its interventions towards collaborative working. At the same time, HSE needs to maintain front-line investigative and inspection skills to respond to significant health and safety failures across the sector. HSE's regulatory approach takes account of the following:

HSE has developed intervention plans for each of the subsectors. These set out the objectives and actions that HSE has decided upon to help deliver this strategy.

Future trends

Many of the service providers across the sector are becoming more autonomous (eg social care, education). In other subsectors, amalgamations of some locally provided services (Police and Fire and Rescue Services) are expected.

There will be increased contracting out of aspects of public services (eg prisons, prisoner and detainee transport, police premises and services). In addition some organisations are pooling resources and internal support functions, including provision of health and safety expertise.

Aims for 2012–2015

Securing justice

Employers and employees recognise the value of investigation and respond positively when enforcement decisions are made in accordance with HSE's Enforcement Policy Statement (EPS).


Leaders demonstrate a risk-based and common sense approach to health and safety, both in their workplaces and across the organisations that they influence.


All leaders and managers (including those with a governance role), and employees, understand their responsibilities and have the necessary competence and confidence to fulfil their responsibilities consistently. They make common sense and appropriate decisions about the management of heath and safety risks.

Worker involvement

Leaders, managers and workers recognise the benefits from involving the workforce in helping to find and implement appropriate and common sense solutions to health and safety challenges.

Health priorities

Employers target key occupational health issues, and work with those bodies best placed to bring about a reduction in the incidence of work-related ill health.

Safety priorities

Employers set priorities to deliver a significant reduction in the rate and number of deaths and accidents, particularly to members of the public affected by work activities.


Stakeholders and regulators collaborate to agree and set clear standards and guidance to help SMEs to understand and fulfil their legal obligations.

Major hazards

Dutyholders conduct their undertakings to reduce the likelihood of low frequency, high impact catastrophic incidents, for example, loss of containment of biological agents from laboratories.

Updated 2021-02-25