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March 31, 2011

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Delivery plan details regulator’s response to cuts and reforms

The HSE has published its work plans for the next 18 months, in which it reveals its readiness to adapt and change to fulfil its role as a business enabler.
Following on from the Safety minister’s assertion last week, when launching the Government’s proposals for reform in the area, that health and safety “is stifling business” the HSE’s Delivery Plan for 1 April 2011 to 31 March 2012 outlines the steps the regulator will take to “enable innovation that brings economic growth while ensuring that risks are managed properly and proportionately”.
The plans are grouped under four main headings: Transforming our approach; Avoiding catastrophe; Clarifying ownership of risk and improving compliance; and Securing justice. Many of the individual actions, such as reducing the level of proactive inspections in all but the highest-hazard sectors, and cost recovery and charging were revealed by HSE chair Judith Hackitt in her address to the IOSH conference on 15 March, and some, such as the consultation on RIDDOR and the establishment of OSHCR online register for health and safety consultants, are already underway.

But the Delivery Plan provides more detail, as well as ‘achieve by’ dates, for the measures, including an implementation date for the new charging regime of April 2012, and a transition plan for transferring control of OSCHR to the professional bodies to be in place by the end of this year.
It specifies the number of targeted interventions planned to be carried out for the highest-hazard COMAH sites, offshore installations, and other specialised industry sectors, such as mines and gas pipelines.
It also enumerates the number of inspections the HSE intends to make in sectors deemed to pose ‘significant risk’. The construction refurbishment sector, for example, can expect to receive “at least 1200 site inspections”, while 1500 visits are planned in relation to licensed asbestos removal work.
At the IOSH conference, however, Judith Hackitt acknowledged that “the number of inspections will inevitably have to go down” and that “other forms of proactive intervention that can work more effectively than inspection” will be explored. According to the Delivery Plan, this will include working in partnership with business, unions and other stakeholder organisations, encouraging them to “find their own solutions and take ownership for driving forward improvements in health and safety standards”.
In terms of enforcement, the HSE pledges to investigate incidents based on its selection criteria and “focus on the most significant failures”. Complaints will be investigated according to the level of risk posed. The regulator assured SHP that, in terms of its reactive inspections and investigations, this “reflects our existing approach – we have not changed our incident selection criteria, or the way we decide to investigate complaints. It is just written a lot more clearly in this document than previous ones.”

At European level, the HSE aims to spearhead negotiations relating to a number of directives and regulations on such subjects as electromagnetic fields, musculoskeletal disorders, and SEVESO III. Again, this reflects Lord Young’s recommendation that the UK should “take the lead in cooperation with other member states to ensure EU health and safety rules for low-risk businesses are not overly prescriptive, are proportionate, and do not attempt to achieve the elimination of all risk”.

Currently, the European Commission is analysing a recommendation from its High Level Group of Independent Stakeholders on Administrative Burdens that low-risk small firms be exempted from certain risk-assessment requirements.  The Commission will be informed in this respect by its Advisory Committee on Safety and Health, on which the UK is represented by the HSE.

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