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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Alert24 - Safeguard Update

Insight into UK regulator

Insight into UK regulator
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Publication Date:
New Zealand

Judith Hackitt, chair of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), says the most challenging issue facing the UK's regulator is to differentiate between the serious, worthwhile work it actually does from the "rubbish" many people believe it does.

It was people citing spurious health and safety reasons to justify their actions - or inactions - which led the HSE to create its Myth Busters Challenge Panel.

Speaking to Safeguard during a recent visit to New Zealand, she said the view that the HSE was out to stop people doing legitimate activities also arose from a climate of fear of civil litigation which had coincided with the rise of no win, no fee lawyers actively prompting injured workers to sue their employers.

Nevertheless, she doesn't believe fear of being sued drives health and safety behaviour by employers. "It's not the ability to sue that creates the problem, it's the ambulance-chasers who provoke people into thinking about it."

She cited television advertising and posters in hospital A&E rooms promoting the notion that any injury was always someone else's fault. "For companies, the cost of fighting these claims is enormous, whether or not they are vexatious."

Hackitt credited UK employers with having taken ownership of the health and safety issue, rather than leaving it to the regulator, and that this is the key to the UK's relatively lower rate of workplace fatalities and serious injuries. In some parts of the world with prescriptive OHS regimes, the risk was that the regulator sets the rules and employers adopt a tick-the-box-to-please-the-regulator attitude.

"With outcome-based legislation, industry's attention to health and safety risk is constant. There is never any point where you can tick the box and say it is done."

Robens-style goal-based legislation, she said, is the starting point which enables employers to own the issue and helps the regulator win the battle for hearts and minds, "because it is the right thing to do morally, not just because the regulator says so".

She said three different independent reviews of the UK's health and safety legislation had concluded its Robens-style performance-based legislation was fit for purpose - as was its regulator. The challenge for this type of legislation - which New Zealand shares - is to support it with up to date codes of practice and guidelines which are easily accessed and understood by the industries they are aimed at.

Hackitt said this has required the HSE to shift away from paper-based codes to a web-based approach which was easily navigable, starting at a high level and drilling down to the level of detail a reader required.

The HSE's new "fees for intervention" policy, which came into effect this month, would have been much more difficult to introduce, she said, had the agency not already built up a record for competence and value for money in the major hazard sector (offshore exploration, nuclear), where it had long been operating on a cost-recovery basis.

Under the new regime, if inspectors visit a company and find it in compliance there will be no fee. If they find a "material breach" then the company will pay for their visit plus the time the HSE takes to work with the company to sort things out. This is fair, she said, because it penalises those who don't do the right thing, and is therefore different from - and fairer than - a levy on all industry.

"It creates an incentive to put it right quickly to minimise the cost."

People Mentioned:
Judith Hackitt
Organisations Mentioned:
Health and Safety Executive
Reference No:

From Alert24 - Safeguard Update

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