More power to your elbow!

In February, HSE embarked on roadshows to spur the efforts of health and safety organisations, unions and employers to support the six pillars of its Helping Great Britain Work Well strategy.

We caught up with Peter Brown (pictured), director of the Health and Work programme at HSE, to find out more about the work and what we can expect from the strategy next.

Helping Great Britain Work Well has been designed to bring together all those who have a role to play in shaping and influencing health and safety practices. HSE’s health and work strategy 2016-2020 will set out priorities under the health strand within the health and safety system. What stage are you at in its first year?

Under the HGBWW strategy, we decided we needed to go out and talk directly with stakeholders, and a series of roadshows were held all around the country, attended by almost 300 stakeholders. What was great about that was the direct engagement with people; asking them what they were doing, what they thought the regulator should be doing, creating great networks and partnerships. Added to that, was the outreach through Twitter – we estimate the events have generated around 2 million opportunities for people to join in a conversation around helping GB work well. We’re very pleased with where we are.

What are the main results of work done so far

We’ve refined and developed the 19 sector plans [the plans for industries that intersect with the health and work strategy’s three health priorities; lung disease, MSDs and stress]. And we’ve refined the health and work strategy that we put out for consultation. For example, it had three specific health topics – we’re adding a fourth, health leadership. It will mean asking organisations to look at the totality of their health risks in the workplace and was a direct response from the roadshows. While everyone confirmed the three health priorities were the right things, they were also saying, ‘yes but help us to knit it together, and put something in that embraces all issues in one go’. It’s about giving people simple, practical ways to tackle health.

How will the relationships you formed in the first tranche of the strategy progress under HGBWW

The relationships in most of the sectors are not necessarily new – but it is refining those. We’ve talked to people, looked at the sectors, tried to identify a set of priorities that we think represent the pressing issues. And over the next few years we will work on those issues with the individual sectors.

You won’t see a ‘one size fits all’ approach for every sector. Some may involve quite a lot of inspection activity. In others it will be much more communication based, and some it will be a mix of both.

In September we plan to launch the final versions of these 19 sector plans, and the Health and Work strategy at our annual conference.

How is HSE taking the lead in tackling ill health – wouldn’t the campaigns and good work already be happening anyway

Clearly people have been working on health issues for a long, long time, but when we talked about the need for a new strategy, one of the biggest feedback themes we got was, ‘please do more on health’. It is one of the areas where there is still much ground to be covered.

I think where we’re seeing good practice, and where we’re seeing enthusiasm and determination to tackle issues we want to get out there and help. We want to say, ‘yes, this is absolutely the right thing to do, more power to your elbow, and what can we do to help?’ But clearly we can’t spread ourselves so thinly, we can’t run these things. The whole strategy is about energising the system.

What impression do you get of the help that is really needed from HSE on the health issue

From our roadshows, a lot of people were saying look, we understand there’s a need to do stuff on health. We want to, but we don’t know what the pragmatic things are. We get lost in this maze of information.

There are so many different bodies out there giving a lot of advice and people are crying out for a way through the maze. I think this is something HSE can do; to provide a source of authoritative but simple and accessible guidance on what works on the health and safety front, that isn’t necessarily going to set you back millions, but will help you make your way through that maze.

Stress is one of the three priorities of the strategy – can you tell me about the work of HGBWW in this area

We’ve had HSE stress management standards for a while, which we believe sets out a pragmatic way of starting to get a handle on stress at work.

But we’re also aware they’ve been around a long time, and we do want to refresh them. One thing we’ve learned recently is that people would like them to reflect the language and the settings in which they work. So we’re running three pilots; in schools, in the prison service and in NHS Scotland, and we want to develop the standard, so that we change the language and the approach for each setting. Our hope is that we’ll develop something that will be seen as useful and be picked up by public sector bodies, and used more widely.

HSE’s fatalities data excludes ill health. With the focus now on driving down incidents of ill health in each of the 19 sectors, will this change

I think it’s really a challenging area. We’ve not set macro level targets, for health. In the past, under a Labour government we had Revitalizing Health and Safety (launched in 2000 it pledged to reduce rates of work-related ill health by 20% by 2010) and there were macro level targets for levels of sickness, accidents and work related disease.

I think learning from that, we know how difficult it is to measure health at a macro level. But we are very interested in trying to measure impact at a specific level. Going back to those stress pilots, we’re keen to build in evaluation techniques at the start of a pilot. So we can see if it has been a genuine reduction in cases of work related stress, within those organisations.

But of course we want to see curves going downwards, rather than upwards in ill health. I think we’re just very conscious it’s hard to make a direct correlation between HSE activity and national level figures. But we’re very keen to try and do it, at a smaller, more specific level, within certain sectors, or within certain companies even.

Health and Work strategy web page at www.hse.gov.uk/strategy