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FORMER HSE CHAIR SPEAKS MIND ON KEY ISSUES

Outgoing health and safety boss has further swipe at consultants

The Institution of Occupation Safety and Health (IOSH) has reported an interview with the outgoing HSE Chair, Dame Judith Hackitt, in which she expresses her views on Fee for Intervention (FFI), HSE budget cuts and health and safety consultants.

Dame Judith chaired HSE since her appointment in 2007 and overseen the overhaul of Approved Codes to many Regulations and controversial changes to injury reporting duties, CDM 2015 and the charging of businesses for regulatory breaches.

Fee for intervention

“I’d be first to agree Fee for Intervention been a big change for people both within HSE and for people on the receiving end of our inspections. Do I think the principle of charging people who have not done the right thing until we tell them to is right? Yes, I do. The principle is sound. But I am very conscious that people continue to tell me, as you say, that this has changed the relationship between HSE and the people out there who used to value our free advice.

The extent to which that is real and the extent to which it is perception we have to get to the bottom of. Is it that people are afraid to ask for advice now because they fear we might charge them or is it because they have real evidence that if we ask them to come in we charge them? I don’t know and I think it’s something that needs a lot more analysis to see where the real problem is.

What I do know is there are a lot of companies out there that used to value the advice they got from inspectors that they now don’t get, so because we have cut back on the number of inspections there are a lot of people who say, in effect: “We miss you. We used to like having visits from HSE, when we got good advice and we would appreciate the opportunity to have that back.

What interests me is that when you say to people “but we no longer have the resources to do that as free advice, would you be willing to pay for it?”, more often than not people say they would.

So there’s a conundrum for me in that people tell me they would be willing to pay for advice but, when it comes to FFI, they are afraid it has got in the way of them asking for advice for free. So there is a dilemma to be addressed there, but the principle at its heart is sound.”

Problems with H&S consultants

Dame Judith complained on a BBC radio programme in 2015 about the occupational health and safety profession becoming “overpopulated with professionals or so-called professionals who make a living out of over-interpreting what the law says for their own ends”.

In the IOSH interview she explored this subject further:

“There is a role for experts in health and safety in this system of ours and it’s an important role. The problem is we have too many and we aren’t as good as we need to be about differentiating between the different types of consultants.

There are the real high-end experts in subjects like engineering who really know their specialist subjects and they have an important role to play. But then you get those who are more general health and safety consultants. The good ones listen to what their customers want and provide proportionate solutions. The not-so-good ones impose and sell through fear.

[They say] ‘You must do this or you will be locked up’, or whatever. Those are the ones that need to look long and hard at what they are doing and why. And if there was one thing I would have liked to have landed better in my time in this job it would have been the Occupational Safety and Health Register (OSHCR) because I don’t think it has done what it set out to do at all.”

Doubts about OSHCR

The Register was established in 2010 in response to Lord Young’s report which noted that anyone could set themselves up as a health and safety consultant regardless of qualifications or experience. Dame Judith said:

“I have my doubts as to whether OSHCR in its current form can deliver. We would probably be better off to have a much more radical rethink and look more closely at when expertise is needed and how that’s defined. Rather than look at it as one big group of people.

So we need to take a different approach to show people what the different pools of expertise are, rather than having this generalist occupational safety and health field and help people to be more discerning about what expertise they need to call on when.

If it’s a small business the first question is why do they need a consultant at all. Most of what they need to do is common sense and if they engage with their employees they can put it in place themselves. And wouldn’t it be better embedded if they did that rather than getting someone in to do it for them?

One of the things I’ve learned … is that there are other forces at play here that cause people to believe there are rules when there are not, or not ones that we have imposed. So we have to look at those other actors who put bureaucratic requirements on business, whether it’s insurers, third party accreditors or consultants.

It’s time we put some time and effort into asking why we are making businesses do this. It’s a real drag on their productivity, so let’s stop.”

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