From the archive: Just so you know, this article is more than 3 years old.
But the consultation and briefing events the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) hosted in January and February suggest the debate has moved on at last. Invited audiences around the UK heard about the new strategy, Helping Great Britain work well, and those at the London meeting, opened by Justin Tomlinson, the minister responsible for safety and health, could be forgiven for wondering where all the political animus against regulation had gone.
When the LÃ¶fstedt Report in 2013 defended most of the regulatory settlement, there was nowhere the antihealth and safety lobby could go other than restricting HSE funding. But the government's austerity ecomonics has brought similar budget restrictions to local authorities and other public bodies. The ideological arguments that safety and health law and practice is bad for business appear to have been silenced, for the time being at least.
The new strategy has six themes: getting every employer and worker to take responsibility for safety and health under the "Acting together" banner; supporting small businesses, with an emphasis on simple advice, debunking "over-the-top" provision and risk adverse approaches; addressing work-related ill health, not least because it costs everyone so much, including those made ill, employers and taxpayers; keeping pace with the changing workplace and workforce.
The HSE's last two priorities are publicising the business benefits of managing risks well, and sharing success, which is partly promoting the UK's approach and partly selling it directly as the HSE takes its services abroad.
The devil will be in the detail, but it is a good and balanced package that is so refreshing after years of sterile defensive discussions about the value of good workplace safety and health to a modern society. If good safety and health management is a good thing -- and, by implication, the opposite is a bad thing -- then we should concentrate on defining it, doing it, recognising and celebrating it.
Of course, there remain risks. The financial squeeze is restricting what the UK's leading institution for safety and health (the HSE) is able to do. There is also the possibility that revenue generation, both through fee for intervention and overseas service provision, could divert the HSE from its core function of supporting and insisting on high standards of risk management across UK workplaces.
But for now, I welcome the new strategy and the way that it is being presented as a refreshing next step in improving UK business through improving health and safety and health performance. If only there could be a similar sea change on funding social housing provision and care in the community.
I was invited recently to meet representatives of a global company with a household name. The business was working on its sustainability strategy and, under Chatham House rules, bravely sought the opinion of around 20 external stakeholders including IOSH.The opening statements made by the organisation were encouraging. Its investors and board had formulated a mechanism to measure return on capital for non-financial indicators, and were focusing particularly on gains from risk management and governance.
Businesses aren’t moral entities. They may be staffed by people who do the right thing more often than not, but that’s because they reflect the make-up of the general population.Companies exist to turn a profit and their executive directors in particular are appointed with the primary duty to generate shareholder value.
Other months may be less busy, but the spurs that propel such topics into the public realm guarantee a continued supply.One of these is the interface between technological innovation and the vagaries of human nature; people acquire new devices and find improbable ways to use them. Hence the calls for tighter restrictions on domestic use of drones and, more curious still, laser pointers. (I can’t have been the only one whose belief in the goodness of humanity suffered a knock at the news there were 1,440 reports by pilots in 2014 of people shining lasers into plane cockpits.)
With a possible change in our relationship with Europe in the offing, would leaving the bloc make the UK safety and health landscape look any different and would we remain as influential among the remaining members?Our robust Health and Safety at Work Act has had a profound impact on EU law. The act’s “so far as reasonably practicable” qualifying phrase was included in the 1989 Framework Directive on Safety and Health at Work (not without dissent), which became a strong foundation of EU safety and health regulation.
We will bring you the stories behind the stories. That means talking to the regulators when they take employers to court, and finding the root failings that others can learn from.This willingness to dig deeper carries through into in our first sample feature – there are plenty more to come but we and IOSH want to keep some surprises for the first issue of the print magazine, available in hard copy and online flipping PDF version at the beginning of February.
The work of health and safety practitioners is always changing, of course whether it’s responding to threats from governments who understand price but not value, or changes in work that means that psychological stress rises in one place while silicosis in young men employed to spray sand on denim to “stone wash” jeans (true fashion victims) arises somewhere else.
Safety interventions should be practicable and cost-effective, but too much of an imbalance towards safety does not make economic sense for employers, argues Geoff Vaughan, who suggests ‘gross disproportion’ provides a practical limit.