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From the CEO’s Desk: HSE addresses the influence of 'human error'

13 November 2013

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is changing their approach when assessing the robustness of company safety procedures. It will now take into account the high percentage of incidents that are caused not by a poor procedure being in place, but rather a robust procedure not being adhered to by the personnel involved. This will become a test of competency rather than a test of systems.

This comes after a shift in the HSE’s focus to start explicitly testing competency, which focuses on the competence of individuals relative to safety and the safety culture of an organisation, rather than the systems put in place.
Initially an assessment directed by the HSE of two safety critical tasks will be undertaken by those responsible for carrying them out. These individuals will need to demonstrate their awareness of the correct processes to follow, using company guidance, safety operating procedures and checklists, and they will then be observed in the execution of the tasks. Any failures in demonstrating competency will lead to a more extensive HSE audit of all safety procedures, which will be at the company’s expense.
The procedure has been referred to as a ‘bottom-up’ approach to inspections, which will closely examine the way an organisation’s most hazardous processes are completed on a day-to-day basis. However, concern has been raised that many companies are under prepared for this shift in emphasis, but the aim is to improve safety, not to catch companies out.
The BSIF welcomes this change in emphasis, focusing on training and awareness and the abilities of staff in the application of and adherence to their safety procedures, rather than just establishing that those procedures are documented and in place.
The HSE is to be commended for taking a more practical and realistic approach. This is a positive way of addressing the fact that when incidents do occur, it is likely that human error in the application of a procedure is the cause rather than whether or not the planned procedure is correct. Anything that strengthens and highlights the need for full and correct training of staff is most welcome.