Encouraging more innovation, productivity and growth, while increasing ownership and performance levels within a more efficient health and safety system, are goals for the Health and Safety Executive in its new five-year strategy. Jon Herbert looks at the path to 2020.

Health and safety management across Britain has improved continuously decade-on-decade. Now it is time to go further still, says the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Statistics show that much remains to be done.

The regulator’s newly-released health and safety system strategy focuses on six key themes to unlock better performance up to and beyond 2020.

These are designed to put greater awareness, information, power and responsibility into the hands of everyone working in, or affected by, the workplace; the HSE itself will become an expert facilitator and leader providing easily-accessed advice, specialist support and essential information.

However, the HSE wants to unroll its strategy in step with the thousands of people who make health and safety practice work on the ground.

To ensure it is in tune with its audience, it has had hundreds of stakeholder conversations, plus millions of other contacts via social media and roadshow events. Very positive feedback is reported.

Subtle changes over the past five years are reflected in the new strategy, says the HSE. These include new technologies, social trends, plus a heightened awareness of occupational health issues.

As the strategy is implemented, the Executive is also keen to turn the complexity that has grown up around health and safety into smart simplicity and a war against red tape.

Forty years on…

Four decades of hard work and change since the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 have made Britain one of the safest and healthiest places in the world to work. Thousands of lives been saved and injuries avoided. Pioneering legislation has reduced the economic and social impacts of incidents and accidents at work. New precedents have been set.

Just before Christmas, the HSE’s CEO, Judith Hackitt, asked people at the shop floor and administrative sharp end to examine their own roles critically in a drive to make 2016 even more successful.

“Does your personal contribution to health and safety really help others or hinder?” was her first question. She also queried whether health and safety ownership and responsibility within individual businesses are in the right place and focused on the right issues?

Then Dame Judith asked health and safety managers if they could personally do things differently in the year ahead to create a better health and safety environment. She welcomed their views as part of an inclusive exercise to improve health and safety delivery in 2016.

Strategy released in March

Now that the new strategy has been launched, the national conversation will continue.

Thanking people for taking part in the HSE’s Helping Great Britain Work Well engagement programme, Dame Judith reports that the HSE is now seeing not only “support” but also a “huge amount of energy and a desire to get involved in driving improvement in all parts of the system”.

This creates confidence that Britain’s health and safety record can be maintained as one of the best in the world, she feels, adding that, “Now we need to move forward at pace”. The consultation has shown that there is broad agreement “that preventing harm to workers and the public is integral to businesses being successful and achieving sustained growth”.

“Our collective challenge is to ensure that this is known, understood and becomes embedded firmly in everyone’s thinking — and all of our actions,” says Dame Judith. “We now need to see real ownership of this strategy — by the many, not the few. This is not HSE’s strategy, it is for the whole of the system and everyone in it.”

Underlying factors

Two time-tested principles will continue to drive health and safety in Britain.

The first is that those who create risks are responsible for taking ownership and managing them. The second is that action must be proportionate to risks and carefully tailored to each business, its people and its circumstances.

The HSE’s approach is that tackling bureaucracy means becoming smarter, and not merely following more complex checklists. This point has resonated with consultees. Businesses say that simplicity and straightforwardness support success and productivity.

One of the key messages coming out of the Helping Great Britain Work Well consultation is that “getting management right is an enabler for innovation and growth, and is integral to business success, as well as the wellbeing of workers”.

Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson, who is also responsible for the HSE, adds, “I was inspired to hear through the strategy road shows about businesses — large and small — that know effective health and safety management allows innovation, enhances productivity and enables growth. They are exemplars for everyone in the health and safety system.

“That’s why this new system strategy has my full backing. It will help ensure Great Britain maintains its world-class health and safety record, whilst also maximising the wider benefits that the system can bring.”

Six-pronged advance

HSE’s strategy development and communication across industry and the community concentrates on six themes that were road-tested in the consultation.

  • Acting together: promoting an inclusive broad membership of health and safety that includes everyone involved or affected in Britain.
  • Tackling ill health: avoiding the damage and cost of work-related physical and mental injury.
  • Managing risks well: simplifying everyday risk management and helping businesses to grow.
  • Supporting small employers: giving SMEs simple clear advice so they know how to meet their legal responsibilities.
  • Keeping pace with change: anticipating new health and safety challenges, plus the benefits of new technologies and business models.
  • Sharing our success: promoting the benefits of Great Britain’s world-class health and safety system.

Statistics speak

Figures show that impressive progress has been made but that there is still much to do.

Britain already has one of the lowest fatal work injury rates in Europe. As an example, fatalities suffered by employees dropped by 86% between 1974 and 2014/2015. Nevertheless, in 2014/2015, 142 people did not come home from work.

Another 611,000 experienced non-fatal injuries at work. At the same time, 1.2 million people suffered work-related illnesses.

In addition, the human cost, the country’s financial bill was estimated to be some £14.3 billion. A staggering 27.3 million working days were lost to either ill health or injury related to work activity.

Improvements over the last decade underline the recent rate of progress. The most significant statistical change from 2004/2005 to 2014/2015 was a fall in fatalities from 223 to 142.

In this period, working days lost were cut from 35.2 million to 27.3 million. The number of new ill health cases fell by a smaller margin, from 545,000 to 516,000. The cost of new ill health and injury cases from 2004/2005 to 2013/2014 was reduced from £17.4 million to £14.3 million.


The HSE’s move towards simplification echoes the Government’s “one-in, two-out” drive against burgeoning legislation. It is part of a wider war on red tape.

On 3 March, business secretary, Sajid Javid, announced further rule changes under the Enterprise Bill designed to cut business costs by a further £10 billion through new “one-in, three-out” targets.

This will include independent regulators and aims to replace unwieldy rules said to soak up valuable business time and restricting growth.

A key goal is to reduce the volume of EU regulation on UK business. Another priority is to find workable alternatives to inspection and bureaucracy-heavy regulations that soon become outdated.

The sheer volume of new and evolving rules and regulations can also be very daunting for people with a workplace duty of care. In many companies, the same individual has to wear different hats for quality, environment and productivity. It is increasingly difficult for one person to know everything. Hopefully, this new strategy from the HSE will help to make health and safety management, at least, more simple.

Published by Croner-i on 22 March 2016



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