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From the CEO's desk

08 April 2016

Last month I had the opportunity to update the readership on the BSIF Strategy for the coming years. On 29 February, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) launched their new strategy under the banner of 'Helping Great Britain Work Well'.

The Strategy launch followed a series of nationwide workshops designed to take opinions from industry stakeholders and use them as a foundation for the Strategy itself.

The strategy document details six themes for the future which are in line with the workshop agenda.

It is great to see the regulator reaching out for opinion and it is helpful to have them articulate the themes which we can all get behind.

Before going into further details on the Strategy, I do want to raise a concern that I’m sure won’t come as a surprise. The nuance from the process is that we are moving focus from safety to health. I was somewhat surprised when the Minister announced that 'Safety was Sorted' and I fear that if that attitude prevails, we will compromise the progress that has been made.

In order for the Strategy to be a success, I believe that those responsible need to be clear that safety underpins health and that there is an essential linear relationship between the two elements; under-valuing safety will compromise health.

Consider this if you would; the provision and use of respiratory protective equipment would naturally be considered as 'safety', while the outcome or consequence of not using respiratory protective equipment where it was necessary could result in a health issue, such as respiratory disease.

So to the Strategy and the key messages themselves.

The key messages are:

  • We can be proud of the UK’s record on occupational health and safety as it is one of the best in the world
  • Getting risk management right is integral to business success in addition to the well - being of the worker
  • Everyone in the system needs to play their part - safety and health is a shared responsibility.

I would not argue against any of the points above but I would say that while we are all proud of the UK’s record on safety & health, the man in the street is not. The brand has a tarnished image and the HSE should recognise this very clearly by communicating the key positive messages to a non-stakeholder audience.

The six strategic themes start with:

1) Acting together: Seeks to promote a broader ownership of health and safety in Great Britain.

The BSIF supports the promotion of a 'health and safety is everyone’s responsibility' culture within businesses. Embedding an effective health and safety culture should not be burdensome. Good health and safety practices should be embedded within the culture of a company and should not just be the sole responsibility of a health and safety representative. From the top to the bottom of an organisation, everyone should be engaged.

2) Tackling ill health: Highlighting and tackling the costs of work related ill health.

The Strategy highlights that work related ill health is a problem across every sector of society, with conditions ranging from cancers and other long latency conditions to muscular skeletal disorders and stress. The impacts on the individual are obvious, as are the costs to society and the NHS. It is recognised that 12,000 people per year die from work related disease.

Prevention is a key element in the strategy and it is always a better approach than a cure. The BSIF wholeheartedly supports the health related focus but reiterates that the relationship between safety and health is fundamental. An appropriate well managed safety programme is key to prevention of ill health. That must be fully understood.

3) Managing risk well: Simplifying risk management and helping businesses to grow.

The BSIF supports efforts to simplify risk management and to help businesses grow. We believe that good business goes hand in hand with good safety and health, and that this message should be promoted within and between businesses.

The BSIF supports the ‘proportional safety’ message and believes that often behavioural management is key to preventing problems. We further are clear, as promoted strongly by John Green, that people are the solution. Safety is the presence of positives, not the absence of negatives and safety is an ethical responsibility. This message should be promoted within the HSE Strategy.

4) Supporting small employers: Giving SMEs simple advice so that they know what they have to do.

The BSIF supports the principle of locally supported safety networks designed to provide advice, support and information for companies who do not have a full time health and safety representative. For example, Local Safety Groups which sit under the umbrella of Safety Groups UK.

More needs to be done to encourage small businesses to become part of these local groups. The HSE’s Estates Excellence Programme was very successful in reaching this fragmented sector and it should be an ever present programme.

5) Keeping pace with change: Anticipating and tackling new health and safety challenges.

The HSE Strategy focuses on a knowledge based approach linked to changing hazards, however the safety and health industry will have a number of challenges to face over the coming years, not least the rise in respiratory illnesses, an ageing workforce and the changing physiology of the workforce.

In the UK, 23% of workers are aged over 60 with this figure set to rise inexorably. It is estimated that over a third of people aged 65 and over will fall at least once a year, which can lead to further injury. It should be noted that over the coming years, the over 65s will comprise a higher percentage of the overall workforce and falls, therefore, will occur more frequently with potentially worse outcomes.

6) Sharing our success: Promoting the benefits of Great Britain’s world class health and safety system.

The BSIF is proud of the culture of health and safety within many workplaces across the UK. The HSE’s record of promoting and supporting this is world class, and we are proud to support the ongoing work to improve the culture of safety and health across the UK even further.

The success of safety and health is difficult to measure, as it is often perceived as the absence of negatives. However, in order to ensure full and robust uptake of recommendations and initiatives promoted within the HSE Strategy, it is crucial to promote the positives.

We look forward to continuing to work with the Health and Safety Executive to develop this important strategy.

Alan Murray, BSIF chief executive

Tel: 01442 248744