NEWS: From health inspections to behavioural theory, HSE presents five year plan at first conference

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HSE will tackle the most serious risks in safety and proactively inspect to achieve improvements in health, delegates heard at HSE’s first annual conference in London.

The event on Monday 18 September, opened by Penny Mordaunt MP, saw the launch of HSE’s health and work strategy.

As the plans published on its website show, HSE has cut Britain’s economy into 19 sectors to focus on over the next three to five years. Three umbrella priorities cover each sector: reducing cases of occupational lung disease, musculoskeletal disorders and work-related stress.

Among the 19, there are six ‘priority sectors’. These are: agriculture, construction, transport and logistics, public services, manufacturing and waste and recycling.

“This is where ill health and incidents that cause death and serious injury [happen most] and where we feel we can achieve outcomes,” said HSE's director of operational strategy, Philip White in his presentation. 

 “In every visit we do we’re looking at health issues,” he said, giving examples such as targeting welding fumes in inspections in fabricated metals manufacturing and flour dust in food manufacturing; also wood dust in woodwork industries.  

HSE went out to stakeholders via roadshow events since March this year to fine tune plans. 

“‘HSE has never had the resources to inspect every workplace, but we can do a lot more by working with you and many other organisations in the safety system to bring more bang for our buck so to say for what we’re trying to achieve,” he said.

HR and health and safety

Peter Brown, deputy director of the work and health programme next spoke of HSE’s new partnerships to achieve each of the three priorities in the strategy.

Peter Brown on new partnerships with the CIPD. Photograph: James Tracey

On work-related stress, he said HSE was in talks with the human resources professional standards body, the CIPD. This was to develop a bespoke qualification for HR professionals on inter-relating the HSE management standard approach to work related stress in organisations.

“Where a lot of organisations that lead on stress, it’s in the HR community – bringing together our work with CIPD will give a boost to organisations to help them bring a more proactive and integrated approach to managing work related stress,” he said.

HSE has also set up a healthy lungs partnership with employers and unions to help develop good practice in tackling occupational lung disease and a manual handling training group. “SMEs are regularly buying in manual handling training, because they think they ought to. But what about solutions by design, or using lifting aids? We would like design solutions to be the default option, and to see employers buying in solutions that suit their workers,” he commented.

Next generation of workers

Looking to the future, Brown said that HSE was adapting its approach to the new ‘gig’ economy: “HSE has traditionally worked with employers and unions to reach their workforces but clearly although that’s very relevant and important the reality is the next generation of workers are not going to find themselves in the kind of a stable long term employment, many of us have experienced.

“They may be in the gig economy they may taking jobs in rapid succession from a range of employers. They need to look after themselves a lot more than maybe some of the older generation.”

He said HSE was therefore working with others to offer vocational and educational training to help individuals understand more about risks at work.

Behaviour change theory

Martin Friar, deputy director of newly established behavioural insight programme, spoke of developing theories to influence behaviour change in SMEs.

Martin Friar on understanding 'how people respond to health and safety'

Friar, formerly a programme director with HM Revenue & Customs before he joined HSE’s insight department, gave a behavioural economic theory as an example that his team was exploring.

“In prospect theory it is all about losses and gains - we are wired to feel losses twice as hard as gains."

He said they were exploring such theories to “understand how people in their real working lives act, react and respond to the world of health and safety.”

The next stage is developing a ‘package of interventions’ using knowledge of behaviours of SMEs in order to prompt the best reaction. “It’s about using what we understand about people and behaviours, what we can do to influence those behaviours to get them making good and appropriate decisions,” he said.

The annual conference was held at London's QEII conference centre and is the first time HSE has hosted such an event, reflecting its focus on outreach and working more with stakeholders in health and safety. 



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