HSE has published its business plan for 2016/17. In this e-update, we address what duty holders under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 can expect over the coming year. The key themes are a simple, prioritised approach to creating and publishing support materials; continued deregulation; controlling risk via targeted interventions and timeous investigations; and greater support for SMEs.

The UK has an enviable health and safety record comparing consistently well against other EU countries and larger economies, with low rates of work-related fatalities, injuries and ill-health. HSE’s challenge, moving towards the next decade, is to maintain current standards but with 46% less government funding than in 2009/10.

Support Materials

HSE will continue, via guidance and leadership, to aim for behavioural change. The content of future guidance and campaign activity will reflect priority areas, which are to be identified in January 2017 when HSE’s ill-health strategy and updated sector strategies will be published. Health and safety statistics will play their part, and engagement in areas of work-related asthma and stress-related disorders is anticipated.

A revised approach to creating, publishing and refreshing guidance is also expected. What changes will be made is not yet known, with proposals due to be made to the HSE board in January 2017. However, simplification and consolidation are likely to be key themes. Change to the current HSE website and a reduction in the total number of guidance documents available is likely to follow.

Deregulation

Since 2010, 50% of health and safety legislation has been removed by HSE and this commitment to deregulation is set to continue. No proposals are made for new regulations. Instead, focus is placed on a number of key regulations which are already in place. Namely: 

Click here to view table.

Effective Control of RiskIn addition, HSE will review the legislative requirements for plant equipment inspection and provide options for reform. Publication of new guidance on risk control is expected by October 2016, with HSE noting its commitment to a move away from the written assessment process.

The number of proactive inspections performed by HSE fell by one third between 2010 and 2015, from 33,000 to 22,000. This trend will continue. HSE expects to deliver 20,000 pro-active inspections in 2016/2017. In accordance with the Lofstedt recommendations, inspections will be targeted towards higher risk areas. Focus will be directed to: (i) major health risks such as legionella, silica dust, carcinogens and asthmagens in wood working, and welding fumes and musculoskeletal disorders in food production; and (ii) high risk sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing and construction.

HSE aims to improve current timescales for the completion of investigations. By April 2017, HSE expects to complete 90% of non-fatal investigations within 12 months and 80% of fatal investigations within 12 months of HSE securing primacy. The driver behind greater efficiency is to ensure that those who fail to meet their health and safety obligations are held to account. The prosecution process is not, specifically, mentioned within the business plan. Accordingly, it remains to be seen whether the targets identified may act as a precursor to an increased use of prosecution by HSE as a form of deterrence.

Support for SMEs

In 2014, YouGov research revealed that health and safety standards were not being met by more than 50% of SMEs. HSE has confirmed its intention to revise its engagement with SMEs and a more tailored approach to health and safety enforcement is expected. The effectiveness of HSE communications with SMEs is to be reviewed, via user research, and new HSE intervention plans are due to follow in April 2017.

Summary

For duty holders, with less health and safety regulations and support materials published and a more targeted approach to inspection, HSE may appear to be less visible than before. This presents its own challenge: to avoid complacency. The legal expectations on duty-holders remain the same. Indeed, in Kennedy v Cordia the Supreme Court confirmed that “safety was to be levelled upwards”.

HSE’s presence may be more limited. However, duty holders must correctly identify and appropriately grade all risks encountered by employees during their work duties and implement adequate control measures. As part of this process, duty-holders should pay close attention to HSE’s new guidance on risk control which is expected by October 2016.