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“It has been rather an eventful year”, said Judith Hackitt, as she gave the opening address in the SHP Legal Arena at Safety & Health Expo this morning.
What she was referring to, of course, was the “culture change” brought about by the new Government and its myriad reports, consultations and crackdowns on health and safety, which have seen the profession hit the headlines as never before.
And some of those headlines are still of the “nonsense” variety, said Ms Hackitt, which is why it is so important for all stakeholders in the sector to pull together. She explained: “What hasn’t changed in all of this is how important workplace health and safety remains. The business of preventing deaths, serious injuries and ill health remains core to everything that we all do.”
To this end, the HSE’s key tool is its strategy, launched two years ago but still, according to Ms Hackitt, fit for purpose. She said: “We must never forget the key message of our strategy – that everybody must be part of the solution.”
And she welcomed the change of approach by the Government as reinforcement of that message and “strong support for the common-sense agenda”. She singled out the focus on small and low-risk businesses, the establishment of the Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register, and the HSE’s move to a supporting role for industry in the production of guidance as areas where the common-sense approach, and collaborative working have borne most fruit.
Ms Hackitt also referred to the recent announcement by Work and Pensions minister Chris Grayling that health and safety legislation is to be reviewed, with the aim of reducing the number of statutory instruments that the HSE and Local Authorities enforce. She said the report of the review committee is expected to be published in the autumn but in the meantime, she encouraged everyone to take part in the ‘Red Tape Challenge’, which is happening in parallel.
She said: “Health and safety laws will be in the spotlight from 30 June but, given the cross-cutting nature of health and safety, I am sure our participation will not be confined to just that two-week slot. We are eager to hear what people have to say, and I urge you all to visit the site to have your say, and also to see what others are thinking.”
With regard to the much-publicised cut in HSE funds Ms Hackitt emphasised that this will not affect its work in the major-hazards sector, nor its reactive work. She elaborated: “All our major-hazard work for the next four years is already cost-covered, but of course we will look at ways of streamlining our work – for example, in terms of administration and the back office.
“Our reactive work will not change, either, and this includes taking enforcement action, where it is warranted. But we will take a more focused approach to the activities that really matter. We will target proactive work much more according to the level of risk, and base it on whether that course of action is the most cost-effective, or are there other, better means available.”
She emphasised that the HSE will not do all of this and “just wait and see what happens”. The Executive will monitor and continue to fine-tune its approach as companies “come in and out of our scope for proactive inspection”.
In terms of its plans to recover costs from companies with which it has to work to ensure they address the risks they create, Ms Hackitt was adamant that this is a “fair and equitable” approach. She continued: “We are levelling the playing field by recognising those who are doing the right thing and getting tougher on those businesses that do not comply.”
The HSE chair concluded her address by reiterating that “times are tough” but emphasising that this “doesn’t mean things have to get worse”. The HSE is committed to following through on the recommendations made by Lord Young and will continue to use its strategy as the road map towards this. But most importantly of all, she said, is for everyone to play a role in leading health and safety and being part of the solution.