Head Of Training, The Healthy Work Company

December 14, 2016

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Spotlight on leadership: in conversation with Alan Murray

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Alan Murray, Chief Executive Officer of the British Safety Industry Federation, gives a detailed view on the HSE’s new strategy and talks about the BSIF’s beliefs on safety.

This article was originally published in May 2016

What are your thoughts on the HSE’s new strategy, and which part of the strategy do you think is most important, presently?

Firstly it was a very positive step to involve stakeholders in the development of the discussion. However the time lag between the end of the roadshows and the publishing of the strategy could suggest that a great deal of the published strategy content had already been determined. It is essential to break the strategy down into the strategic themes as has been done.

My views on each are as follows…

1.       Acting together: Promoting broader ownership of health and safety in Great Britain.

The BSIF supports the promotion of a “health and safety is everyone’s responsibility” culture within businesses. Embedding an effective health and safety culture should not be burdensome. Good health and safety practices should be embedded within the culture of a company and should not just be the responsibility of a single HSE representative.

2.       Tackling ill health: Highlighting and tackling the costs of work-related ill health.

While great strides have been made towards radically reducing work related injury in the UK, ill health is still a significant cause of missed work and death in the UK.

  • 76,000 injuries were reported under the RIDDOR Scheme in 2014/2015 with the Labour Force Survey recording a total of 611,000 occupational injuries, of which 152,000 led to a greater than 7 day absence.
  • 4 million working days are lost to injury each year.

According to the latest HSE statistics work-related injuries and ill health account for:

  • 46% of health and safety incidents;
  • 85% of work related sickness;
  • 23.3 million working days were lost in 2014/2015.

By far the largest proportion of work-related fatalities are respiratory illnesses such as lung cancer, COPD and mesothelioma. These diseases accounted for 12,000 deaths last year and these deaths are set to increase over the next five years.

Despite these shocking statistics, many employers and employees are not aware of the dangers presented from dust or other substances inhaled at work. Far more can and should be done to prioritise the reduction of respiratory illnesses in line with the Strategy’s focus on preventing ill health at work.

In order to effectively tackle this issue, we support the following actions, which we would like to see reflected within the Strategy and associated work programme:

  • Public health schemes/campaigns launched to raise awareness of the causes and means of preventing ill health – in particular respiratory illnesses – at work.
  • A renewed effort to support awareness of the correct use of respiratory protective equipment – through supporting initiatives such as Fit2Fit.
  • The Fit2Fit initiative to feature as a case study within the HSE Strategy document.

All Government supported building projects to ensure that all personal protective equipment used is purchased through suppliers approved by the Registered Safety Suppliers Scheme. Companies displaying the Scheme’s logo have signed a binding declaration that the safety equipment they offer is fully certified to the appropriate standards to ensure the correct product performance.

3.       Managing risk well: Simplifying risk management and helping businesses to grow.

The BSIF supports efforts to simplify risk management and to help businesses to grow. We believe that good business and good safety and health go hand in hand, and that this message should be promoted within and between businesses.

The BSIF supports the ‘proportional safety’ message and believes that often behavioural management is key to preventing problems.

The BSIF supports the belief that:

  • People are the solution
  • Safety is the presence of positives
  • Safety is an ethical responsibility.[i]

This message contained within Safety Differently should also be strongly promoted within the HSE Strategy.

4.       Supporting small employers: Giving SMEs simple advice so they know what they have to do.

The BSIF supports the principle of locally supported safety networks designed to provide advice, support and information for companies who do not have a full time health and safety representative. For example, Local Safety Groups which sit under the umbrella of Safety Groups UK.

More needs to be done to encourage small businesses to become part of these local groups. The HSE Strategy should factor in methods of increasing participation of SMEs in these groups and the Estates Excellence programme should receive more focus

5.       Keeping pace with change: Anticipating and tackling new health and safety challenges.

While the HSE has focussed on new technologies we believe that the biggest “keeping pace” issue is the social change brought about by the increasing age profile of the workforce.

The safety and health industry will have a number of challenges to face over the coming years, not least the rise in respiratory illnesses, an ageing workforce and the changing physiology of the workforce.

  • In the UK, 23% of workers are aged over 60 with people over 50 set to make up 32% of the working population by 2020.
  • It is estimated that over a third of people aged 65 and over will fall at least once a year, which can lead to further injury.
  • It should be noted that over the coming years the over 65s will comprise a higher percentage of the overall workforce and falls, therefore, will occur more frequently with potentially worse outcomes.

Programmes and initiatives do exist which can help to support and prevent illnesses within this changing workforce.

The Clean Air? Take Care! initiative, for example, is designed to prevent illnesses in today’s workforce in order to ensure their long-term ability to engage in work and wider society. Further to this, the Listen Today Hear Tomorrow campaign aims to protect the hearing of those working in a job where noise is an issue.

6.        Sharing our success: Promoting the benefits of Great Britain’s world-class health and safety system.

The BSIF is proud of the culture of health and safety within many workplaces across the UK. The HSE’s record of promoting and supporting this is world class, and we are proud to support the ongoing work to improve the culture of safety and health across the UK even further.

The success of safety and health is difficult to measure, as it is often perceived as the absence of negatives again referencing Safety Differently. However, in order to ensure full and robust uptake of recommendations and initiatives promoted within the HSE Strategy, it is crucial to promote the positives. We believe that the “man in the street” view of health and safety is that it is a burden the HSE strategy needs not to ignore this and continue to spread positives to the point that health and safety is seen as a positive force for good.

The construction industry recently held a summit to discuss the importance of health in health and safety. Do you think people are finally getting on board with the importance of preventing work related ill health?

Yes I do, however I am fearful that we risk losing the progress we have made on safety as the “thought leaders” guide the current trends to (ill) health. It needs to be understood that there is often a wholly linear relationship between safety and health. For example: A worker using respiratory protective equipment if exposed to a dust hazard would be seen as a safety issue however a failure in the protection would be seen as a health outcome!

The safety differently concept looks at the positive side of safety and the ethical responsibility we have to keep people safe. What are your thoughts on the movement and do you see companies taking this approach?

I fully support this process, however it is a key challenge to move away from the measurement of negatives. The discipline is about protection and prevention and doing it a “different way” but there is a validity in measuring the absence a negative but that must always be supported by the cultural move where everyone appreciates the virtue of good proportionate safety and health programmes.

In terms of leadership, what do you think is most important when trying to get everyone on board with working safely?

Appreciating that working safely and working well go hand in hand. Leadership must communicate the value of working safely in a civilised modern society being clear what it means to the individual while at and away from work.

 Alan Murray is Chief Executive Officer of the British Safety Industry Federation. The BSIF are exhibiting at Safety & Health Expo from the 21st – 23rd June at London’s ExCeL. Register for Safety & Health Expo today and find the BSIF at stand R1800.

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