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February 25, 2015

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Moving with the times: Dr Richard Judge

Richard JudgeHSE’s new CEO Dr Richard Judge talks about its legacy and explains why adaptation is vital if the regulator is to remain fit for purpose. By Nick Warburton

It is somewhat apt that Dr Richard Judge should have stepped into the chief executive’s shoes at HSE on the cusp of the regulator’s 40th anniversary celebrations.

Fiercely proud of HSE’s achievements over the past four decades, Judge is also mindful that the regulator cannot afford to simply trade on past glories.

Looking to the next 40 years and beyond, it’s vital that HSE continues to adapt in an increasingly fast-changing world if it is to remain effective and continue to offer best value.

To quote Judge: “If we try to build an organisation that is fit for today, we will be out of date in 10 years’ time”.

Indeed, the risk profile that faced HSE inspectors back in the Seventies was in stark contrast to today’s complex challenges.

Whereas the heavy weights of shipbuilding, mining and a much larger manufacturing sector dominated back then, today the regulator is faced with a myriad of challenges, increasingly in hi-tech industries, and emerging issues like advanced materials and nanotechnology. There is also a changing knowledge economy and very different employment practices to contend with.

Fit for purpose
For many regulators, this dramatic change in pace might seem daunting but from conversations and insights with internal and external stakeholders, Judge believes that HSE is better placed than most to face up to this ‘brave new world’.

“I think the unique thing about HSE is the breadth of what we do and how we bring it all together,” he says on reflection. “Whether it’s the science and the evidence that supports that or the policymaking which is then also informed by the incidents we attend and our enforcement activity.”

027_SHP0315_Page_2A chartered engineer by background, and a fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Judge’s CV is incredibly varied, with spells working both in the public and private sectors, and in industries as diverse as nuclear, rail and the marine environment (see career snapshot).

Not surprisingly for someone who has only been in post since mid-November, his immediate priority has been to gain a better understanding of HSE’s operations.

Taking up the reins, post-triennial review, Judge senses that he is at the helm of a steady ship; one that is largely well respected.

“I think it was Martin Temple who said, to paraphrase, ‘There’s almost universally positive support for HSE from the breadth of stakeholders you talk to’, and there aren’t too many regulators where that would come through. I think it’s a really positive reflection on HSE,” he says.

“Talk to any one of them individually and any stakeholder will have their own angle and that’s fine. Part of our job is to try and balance all the different perspectives and build on them through partnerships.”

Revenue generation
One of Judge’s tasks as CEO will be to ensure that the health and safety regulator increases its revenue generation, a government mandate in its response to Temple’s review.

With a General Election looming and prudence on government spending an expected outcome, how HSE continues to adapt to an austerity-led climate will be crucial.

As Judge points out, this will require different approaches. Whereas in some sectors – such as construction – HSE’s interventions involve a mix of techniques, including inspections, in others HSE will take a back seat, working to influence and support industry to further health and safety gains. He cites the Estates Excellence in this respect.

“This is really where we are working with business owners and landlords to look at health and safety across a range of sites… where we are probably being a bit more of a catalyst,” he explains. “If you look forward, I can see this being a big part of that [working in partnership]. Not because we don’t want to do it but because the end result is better if people own it for themselves.”

In construction, however, where safety standards have been transformed beyond recognition in the past 40 years, greater visibility from the regulator is part of a much more hands-on approach.

“It’s been a very calculated and carefully thought-through intervention strategy, which started at board level, and was supported and reinforced by targeted enforcement activity,” he continues. “That package, which is quite multifaceted, is what is shown to work there.”

Forty years ago, it was HSE’s regulatory approach that, in part, contributed significantly to the safety improvements we have seen (and continue to see) over successive decades.

For some, however, HSE’s revenue generation raises concerns about the way it interacts with its regulatory role. What assurances can Judge give that any conflict of interest will not arise.

“First and foremost we are a regulator,” he stresses. “We don’t lose sight of that and therefore we wouldn’t let our commercial activity undermine our regulatory role. That is very straightforward.”

Rather, the areas where HSE has already started to generate commercial income from (and is expecting to exploit further) are far removed from its regulatory function and need to be seen in a wider context.

“The Health and Safety Laboratory already turns over a fair bit of commercial income so if you think of commercial activity as capitalising on our know-how, our scientific expertise is part of that,” he explains.

“What you see is a really strong science base; you’ve got fantastic facilities and people want to use it. The benefits that come back are partly financial but an awful lot is around learning and understanding a different experience.”

Product development
Another area where HSE can expand its commercial operations without compromising its regulatory role is around product development. Judge cites land-use planning, where HSE is a statutory consultee, as one example.

HSE’s CEO explains: “If you follow the historic process through, business puts in a plan and two months later it lands on our desk and we say, ‘You know what? It’s a bit too close to that school’. They say, ‘If only we’d known that at the start, we could have done things differently or we would have valued the land differently.”

However, by providing access to ‘paid for’ advice much earlier in the process, HSE can avoid resources and time being wasted.

“What we are doing is providing products or tools that will help a business or organisation run its own health and safety that bit better,” he outlines.

“It’s very supportive of our mission, it’s very supportive of our overall purpose but it also capitalises on know-how and brings in some income. We can then use that to continue to invest.”

The third area where HSE plans to expand further commercially is on the international stage. As Judge points out, the UK’s health and safety regime is held in high regard globally and clearly there are opportunities to replicate good practice overseas and help others drive down fatalities and injuries.

“There’s a huge interest in how we do that and when I talk about capitalising on some of the know-how, some of it is just working with and supporting other regulators in developing their regime,” he explains.

“The benefits are partly financial but actually for GB, if there’s a regulatory regime around the world which our own companies and businesses understand, there’s clearly a wider benefit for the country on the back of that.”

Focusing on the domestic front, HSE’s emphasis going forwards will increasingly be two-fold; the first to maintain and further improve safety gains but second to reverse the mounting fallout from past occupational health exposures.

Whereas the impact of safety interventions is immediate, ‘health’ is a much harder nut to crack and the long latency of disease means the gains are not really seen until a generation later. Even so, it is possible to measure progress.

“[With] safety, you’ll see fewer accidents and fewer incidents. I still don’t think you can point to one intervention because normally it’s a whole range of things [that contribute to an incident]. Nonetheless, over a relatively short period, you can see the difference,” he says.

“[With health], you’ll get a better return if you start to see changing working practices as a result of greater awareness… [We need to] make sure we draw out the occupational health side alongside continuing what has been a really impressive performance on safety.”

HSE’s myth busting panel, backed by research from Exeter University, has done much to challenge negative perceptions of ‘elf and safety’ and to provide encouragement for a profession, which has, at times, been much maligned.

“If people confuse a perception of health and safety with a job’s worth, then you are utterly missing the point,” he argues. “If we can get the public to understand the professionalism, understanding the care that goes into that, and the basic principles of people working safely, people will begin to get that. Let’s make sure we focus on the right things.”

Nearly four months in to the post, Judge is clear about HSE’s priorities. He reiterates the need to make decisions in the context of a world that is changing rapidly and to respond accordingly. It’s about building on HSE’s past achievements but also horizon scanning and moving with the times.

“The underlying thing for me is how do we make sure we keep offering best value, how do we make sure we are effective as a regulator and remain modern,” he says. “It’s also about how we make sure the outcomes we have seen over 40 years keep improving and keep being delivered on. That’s the exciting part.”

Judge has stepped into the CEO’s shoes at an historic moment in HSE’s history. Over the past 40 years it has helped to bring about a dramatic reduction in workplace fatalities and non-fatal accidents.

Looking back at the UK’s health and safety legacy, Judge has no doubts about what its crowning achievement has been.

“[It is] the proportionate, risk-based approaches, the focus on outcomes, industry held to account for what they do and you put management of the risk with the people who are best placed to manage it,” he argues. “What a fantastic framework. It has proven its worth over 40 years in adapting.”

And what does he expect of the next 40 years? “That it works but that we’ll need to continue to adapt. As the world changes around us, we will work with that and find different approaches,” he concludes.

“It’s about continuing to make a difference, continuing to be understood for the value that we add, and it’s about building on what’s been gone before. It’s a rich heritage but we can’t stand still. We keep moving.”

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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David Davis
David Davis
5 years ago

Dr Judge Should be aware the HSE is no longer fit for purpose They have failed to uphold the rule of law in accordance with the Health and Safety Act 1974 Wiltshire Council recently refused to consider safety when granting planning permission and have used regulation to bypass the Duty of Care The HSE have ignored my complaint and refused to hold the council to account The HSE have distanced themselves from their responsibilities in ensuring that the Health and Safety Act is adhered to This is a National disgrace because not only is the safety of the public placed… Read more »