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Occupational safety: A time of serious change

23 January 2013

David Lummis, CEO of BSIF, considers what impacts Lord Young's Review into health & safety may have and highlights that it is still the responsibility of everyone involved within the industry to protect workers from harm

David Lummis, CEO of BSIF, considers what impacts Lord Young's Review into health & safety may have and highlights that it is still the responsibility of everyone involved within the industry to protect workers from harm

The UK has a very proud record in occupational health and safety. Fewer lives are lost each year to accidents at work and the numbers have continually improved to give the UK a world leading position. Why? Well the culture of occupational health and safety is very strong in the UK. The legislation is strong and clear, the enforcement of the legislation is practical, proportionate and effective and the entire industry, from the manufacturers and suppliers of equipment to the safety consultants, safety officers and safety reps, are committed to ensure the working environment is as safe as it can be.

However, politically we now find ourselves in a different world.

Lord Young's recent report has, quite rightly, highlighted some of the significant issues within occupational safety which require improvements, while the Chancellor is keenly cutting Government expenditure to reduce the deficit. In what way is this new regime likely to affect occupational safety in the UK? While I am sure we all agree that simplifying current legislation, reducing red tape and loosening the bonds which restrict British industry are very laudable aims, we must remember that in the safety world, these have often been generated in response to real incidents and requirements and are the very reason we have such an excellent safety record. It would be unfortunate if in the process of creating this new working environment, we did so at the expense of workers health. No one would like to see the accident statistics take a major jump, least of all the Government. The headlines alone would be extremely unpleasant, beside the major suffering and grief which may occur.

Lord Young's report specifically calls for a review and consolidation of health and safety regulations. You can understand this if you look at the structure of law in this area.

However, within the safety industry, we all have a duty of care to ensure that safety policies are implemented appropriately and proportionately to overcome the occupational hazard. We must not think this apparent review is in any way a relaxation of requirements or an excuse to be less vigilant. Those who can, should support and assist the legislative review and ensure we do not lose the quality of our legislation, which is so core to our proud record.

The Occupational Safety Consultants Register The BSIF has been pleased to be involved in the discussions that have been ongoing in recent months regarding the accreditation of safety professionals. Following the recommendations made by Lord Young we look forward to being part of the process to create a new national register of occupational safety consultants.

The Occupational Safety Consultants Register (OSCR), which will go live in January 2011, will provide firms with details of consultants who have met the highest qualification standard of recognised professional bodies and who are bound by a code of conduct that requires them to only give advice which is sensible and proportionate.

While these changes are now being seriously considered and much of the report recommends extra support activity from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), expenditure budgets for all Government departments are being heavily trimmed.

Enforcement and education are key roles for the HSE and additional support from the HSE is called for in Lord Young's report to SME's and other organisations. We can only hope that some 'joined up Government' has occurred and the HSE's budgets will not be so affected that they are unable to deliver this new activity and maintain their crucial enforcement / education roles. Without this capability, I am worried we may see the unpleasant headlines already highlighted.

Time will tell, but meanwhile we must all remember our key function is to protect workers health and wellbeing. If handled well, I believe Lord Young's recommendations will strengthen the position of health and safety in Britain's mind. If however, they are muddled through because of budget restraints, those of us at the 'sharp end' have a duty to maintain a vigilant stance to protect workers from potential hazards.

For further advice on any of the issues contained within this article visit www.bsif.co.uk.