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May 12, 2010

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SHE 10 – HSE chief sets out the challenges ahead

A draft model of accreditation for health and safety consultants is expected to be in place by the summer, with the potential for final recommendations to follow in the autumn, HSE chief executive Geoffrey Podger told delegates at the SHP Legal Arena today (13 May).

He accepted that “there have been real difficulties in people not being able to access people who they can rely on, in terms of high-level consultancy advice”. The HSE is currently talking with safety bodies, including IOSH and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, on how such a scheme might be implemented, and Podger said it would need to incorporate Continuing Professional Development, ethical standards, and offer different avenues for individuals to apply for accreditation.
Outlining a number of challenges ahead for the HSE, he appeared to back David Cameron’s pledge at the end of last year to review all health and safety rules and regulations to determine whether they are still necessary and relevant. Showing support for the current better regulation agenda, he emphasised that the Executive was not interested in developing health and safety legislation that is burdensome to business but was equally adamant that he did not want to see health and safety standards compromised.
He welcomed moves by the European Commission to look at regulatory reduction and simplification plans and to engage in impact assessments and follow up with post-evaluation of legislation. However, he warned that the biggest challenge ahead for Europe would still be what countries do after they have transposed European Directives into law.
Podger went on to describe some of the issues surrounding the HSE’s Easier Access to Services programme, presenting delegates with a snapshot of the huge demands placed on its 3500 staff. This includes handling 300,000 inquiries a year about information and guidance; 800,000 general inquiries; and 30,000 complaints about health and safety issues.
Given these and other efficiency pressures the HSE faces, he said the HSE is “trying to merge its activities and try, far as we can, to use external services to provide basic information”. Similarly, recognising the difficulty in reaching small businesses, he said the Executive is also “trying to provide more simple guidance on websites that SMEs are more likely to use”.
Commented Podger: “We have to become more customer-sympathetic and we have to recognise that we don’t have the resources available to be a people-based service – it has to be largely a web-based service, and we have to link together the various services we provide.”
Another change that the HSE is keen to implement is the use of more non-inspectors in front-line work. Stressing that the HSE was still very much “in the business” of serving enforcement notices and taking prosecutions, he emphasised that the HSE’s approach would be one of a pragmatic regulator focusing on areas of the greatest risk. But he openly indicated, when responding to a question from the floor, that he did not feel the Conservatives’ pre-election vow to allow certain companies the right to bar inspectors from their sites is a sensible approach, and felt that many companies would in fact deem such a system to be too costly to them.



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