Is business ready for self-regulation?

Executive director - policy, IOSH

I was recently invited to speak at a conference on whether the time has come for businesses to regulate their own OSH performance. The merits or otherwise of this idea feature regularly in conversations between OSH professionals. There is no right or wrong answer, but the premise of self-regulation spurs thoughts about the best drivers to advance safety and health standards beyond simply the fear of enforcement. 

There is no doubt that regulation has its place in stating society’s minimum expectations and in providing a clear framework against which all organisations can measure themselves. There must also be a punitive system to address dutyholders who fall short of these standards. However, with less prescriptive regulation and a drive – in the UK at least – to reduce the regulatory burden on business, we should all do more to define good OSH performance and promote it around the world.

There are many examples of good business practice and most organisations are happy to share their successes. This responsible approach will build confidence that we can move towards self-regulation. But to create a sustainable shift and ensure the trust of all those who have an interest in business performance in this area: the public, regulators and investors; we need to do more. 

Credibility would be bolstered through a requirement for public reporting against a set of defined OSH metrics

There are three key requirements to enable and engender a self-regulatory environment:

1. Building capability – those who have responsibility for implementing an OSH agenda must be equipped with the right skills, knowledge and experience. Effective OSH work requires more than technical capability – practitioners need the ab)ility to engage and influence, understand strategy and planning, and appreciate sustainable business practice. IOSH Blueprint, our newly-named competency framework (see page 12 will provide the mechanism to measure and develop these abilities.

2. Embedding culture – organisations that treat safety and health as material issues and have clear, publicly-reported OSH visions, are best positioned for a self-regulatory environment. If these priorities are integrated into business strategies and processes, they are more likely to have a positive impact on an organisation’s OSH performance.

3. Assuring credibility – there is no requirement to publish your OSH activities or performance. You may be legally obliged to report accidents to the regulator but your ambitions, activities and progress can remain confidential. This promotes inconsistency across organisations and a lack of transparency. Credibility would be bolstered by a requirement for public reporting against a set of defined OSH metrics to ensure parity, consistency and aid benchmarking between businesses. The public, regulator and investor can make informed judgements and hold businesses accountable; and the organisation benefits from a level playing field where it can be proud to report its activities and seek commercial differentiation. This premise is supported by the Center for Safety and Health Sustainability (www.centershs.org), of which IOSH is a founding member. 

I believe we still have much to do to assure the public, regulators and investors that we are ready to succeed in regulating ourselves. But we do have a rich source of guidance and materials to build this confidence and ability.


Shelley Frost is executive director - policy at IOSH. She was formerly head of sustainability at Aggregate Industries UK and has held a number of senior positions in the health and safety and sustainability arenas, from regulatory, policy and strategy to operational management.

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  • Shelley, our Company has had

    Permalink Submitted by Mark French on 12 July 2016 - 07:07 pm

    Shelley, our Company has had a self regulatory system in place for many years now. We have set performance criteria to be audited against and where sites do not meet these or infact a serious breach is witnessed an immediate fine or prohibition notice is served, which ultimately will hit the bottom line. Where sites are performing at their best then they are recognised and receive various levels of reward. This happens twice a year and drives continual progression and innovation in the business. Self regulation works for our Company.


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