Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Publish New 10-Year Strategy 2022-2032 ‘Protecting People and Places’

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Publish New 10-Year Strategy 2022-2032 ‘Protecting People and Places’:

Introduction:

The HSE have published their new 10-year strategy entitled ‘Protecting people and places’. The strategy sets out HSE’s strategic direction for the next decade, stating that protecting people and places will be at the heart of everything it does as a regulator. The HSE describe the new 10-year strategy as one that reflects HSE’s role at its broadest. A role that goes beyond worker protection, to include public safety assurance on a range of issues. HSE state that their new strategy is designed to keep HSE focused on tackling both new and traditional risks, at the right time and in the right way by setting out clear objectives and themes, guiding their future interventions and regulatory activities.

The core principle of the new strategy remains to ensure that those who create risks take responsibility for controlling risks and those who fail to do so will be held to account and bear the cost. The new strategy sets out a refreshed set of priorities for HSE that also reflect the organisation’s added role and responsibilities, including establishing the Building Safety Regulator, extending its role in chemical regulation and supporting sustainable, healthy, workplace practices.

The strategy key objectives – overview

The core principle of the new strategy remains to ensure that those who create risk take responsibility for controlling risk; those who fail to do so will be held to account and bear the cost. The key strategic objectives are:

  1. Reduce work-related ill health, with a specific focus on mental health and stress.
  2. Increase and maintain trust to ensure people feel safe where they live, where they work and, in their environment.
  3. Enable industry to innovate safely to prevent major incidents, supporting the move towards net zero.
  4. Maintain Great Britain’s record as one of the safest countries to work in.
  5. Ensure HSE is a great place to work, and that it attracts and retains exceptional people.

These objectives succeed those in the previous five-year strategy published in 2016, in which attention was given to promoting broader ownership of health and safety, supporting small employers, and sharing the success of Britain’s health and safety regime abroad. There was no mention of mental health or efforts to reach net-zero in the previous strategy, which clearly mark the new focus of the new strategy.

Addressing the mental health and work-stress crisis:

Building on past guidance for dealing with stress in the workplace, the HSE has identified mental health and stress as a distinct type of work-related ill health and has committed to focus on this in the next ten years. The strategy identifies that, in contrast to most other types of injury, work-related mental health issues are on the increase, with the most commonly reported causes of work-related ill health now being stress, depression, or anxiety. Every sector of society is impacted by this issue, and HSE analysis calculates that it may be costing the economy up to £11.4 billion per annum. The strategy indicates the HSE’s commitment to support businesses and employers to keep staff mentally healthy and focus its enforcement action on those who culpably fail to do so.

Physical health can be managed in ways that are far more tangible; mental ill health can be equally damaging but perhaps not so simple to manage. Businesses and employers also need to recognise that employees working from home still need to be protected against work-related harm. The risk of injury in a work premises may be reduced, but isolated workers in less regulated home offices may suffer from other harms which are equally the employer’s responsibility.

Clearly, employers, particularly those with high-stress workplaces will need to review work-stress policies and procedures to assess and determine which workers are at risk and consider employee support such as counselling, help-lines, mental health first-aiders as a first point of contact for those who need help and signposting etc. Mental health and stress policies will need to be implemented to document and evidence what the company does to help manage and support worker stress levels. The indication from this is that companies may face HSE prosecution and substantial fines for failing to take the required work-stress and mental health measures.

Supporting the transition to net-zero:

The HSE also identifies in the new strategy that it has an important role to play in the safe delivery of the government’s commitment to achieve net zero greenhouse gas by 2050. It is anticipated that new and potentially dangerous technologies will be crucial to making the transition.

The strategy is keen to highlight that the HSE will not unnecessarily impede innovation through its enforcement of health and safety legislation, though clearly this needs to be balanced against making sure these technologies are developed, tested and implemented in a way that does not put people in danger. This objective is a clear sign that the HSE want to work with developers of these technologies and suggests that its involvement should not be feared as government red-tape, but seen as a collaborative approach to help build public assurance in the safety of these products as they begin to transform society.

Becoming the Building Safety Regulator (BSR):

Alongside its considerable existing duties, the HSE will soon have additional responsibilities as the Building Safety Regulator (BSR) in England. The tragic Grenfell Tower fire disaster in 2017, and the Public Inquiry into it, has put fire safety at the forefront of discussion, and the government’s response has been to introduce the Fire Safety Act 2021 and the Building Safety Act 2022.  The latter piece of legislation will impact every stage of a higher-risk building’s life, and will be policed by the HSE as the designated BSR. The Building Safety Act heavily extends the scope of power to enforce compliance, and places much of that power in the hands of the HSE in its new role of BSR.

HSE Government Funding – A key issue:

Without substantial additional funding, it is hard to see how the HSE will commit sufficient resources to this significant expansion of its remit without directing focus away from some of its usual and limited health and safety inspection work. Since 2010 the budget of the HSE has been cut by over 50% in real termsThe HSE’s Business Plan for 2016/17 showed that HSE funding received from central government would be over £100 million less by 2019/20. To fund this expansion of the HSE’s role as the BSR, it will be requesting £201 million from the government, an increase of £28 million from the sum requested in 2020/21. This is alongside £100 million to be recovered through cost recovery and externally funded income which is up from £77 million in 2020/21. It is clear from the strategy that launching the BSR and enforcing the new requirements in the Building Safety Act will be a substantial and long-term project for the HSE; which is why it requires the attention of being a key objective in the 10-year strategy.

Conclusion:

As a broad set of objectives, the HSE 10-year strategy does not uproot any health and safety principles, but it does show the regulator’s direction of travel has changed to keep up with the biggest risks to health and safety in our society today.

Physical health has long been the focus of the HSE, now mental health will be taking more of the regulator’s attention. This will require engagement with employers and trade unions to understand how they can help protect workers from this different kind of harm. Duty holders under the Building Safety Act, will also need to review their working practices to ensure they are ready for the HSE’s new agenda.

Many workplaces have changed significantly over last decade and will continue to do so over the next 10 years covered by the HSE strategy. Businesses and employers need to continue to be vigilant in delivering their HSAW Act General Duties and how they protect the health of the workforce and those affected by their operations. HSE need to step up enforcement activities and inspector resources if the strategy’s objectives are to be fully realised and delivered effectively. Trade Union Safety Reps have a key role to play in this and the HSE need to fully embrace that aspect.

TUC and CIEH response:

Both the TUC on behalf of all UK Trade Unions and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) which represents Environmental Health Officers have called on the HSE for more engagement, increased collaboration and joint working as more detailed plans are developed on the back of the new strategy.

Attached:

  • Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Publish New 10-Year Strategy 2022-2032 ‘Protecting People and Places’

Yours sincerely

Dave Joyce
National Health, Safety & Environment Officer

22LTB298 Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Publish New 10-Year Strategy 2022-2032 ‘Protecting People and Places’

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