Looking forward - HSE business plan 2018/19

The HSE has published its business plan for the year ahead, setting out the HSE’s priorities for 2018/2019.

Key priorities this year will focus on:

  • Completing the bulk of fatal investigations and non-fatal investigations within 12 months.
  • Supporting the government in its preparations for Brexit
  • Targeted inspections and interventions to address priority issues.

Overarching themes

Lead and engage

Focus for the year ahead will remain on engagement and collaboration, in particular working closely with leaders in the offshore wind, oil and gas industries to reduce risks during 2018, marking the 30th anniversary of the Piper Alpha tragedy.

The HSE has identified the following key priorities to deliver this:

  • Sustain momentum on the Helping Great Britain work well strategy, focusing on the highest risk sectors and building on stakeholder engagement and commitments.
  • Deliver the next phase of the Health and Work programme, focusing on reducing levels of occupational lung disease, musclo-skeletal disorders and work-related stress. The Revised HSE Guidance on assessment and management of work-related mental ill health is promised in the coming year.
  • To establish a multi-year plan enabling proportionate management of health and safety within SMEs. This has yet to be published but is expected soon.
  • Continue to develop a shared research programme by increasing the number of contributing partner organisations and through new proposals that improve the evidence base for interventions, which improve health and safety performance.

Provide an effective regulatory framework

This year the HSE will have a significant role in supporting the government prepare for Brexit. This will include making technical changes to ensure retained EU law functions effectively upon exit, providing certainty for employers and employees, and preparation of any necessary changes to the chemicals regime.

A notable priority arises from the ongoing Grenfell inquiries. The HSE has pledged to actively engage in this process, ready to make any necessary changes in response to the findings. A shift in fire safety regulation and guidance is expected over the coming years.

The HSE also plans to continue to tackle ‘blue tape issues’, which are burdens arising when business to business health and safety obligations are disproportionate or lead to ineffective risk control and ownership. They will share learning on this issue and identify ways to promote proportionality in the system. This will include guidance on the proportionate implementation of ISO 45001e. This will be welcomed by many who are struggling with aspects of the new standard.

Secure effective management and control of risk

The HSE will undertake a targeted programme of approximately 20,000 proactive inspections in 2018/19. At least 500 inspections will be targeted at each of the following sectors:

  • Metal fabrication
  • Agriculture
  • Waste and recycling
  • Food manufacturing
  • Construction refurbishment (one national and two London-specific) to include one national campaign on construction health risk.

The HSE reports that it has delivered on its promise to improve the timely completion of investigations in 2017/18, and aims to sustain this progress to tackle ongoing risks.

The plan proposes that 80% of fatal investigations are to be completed within 12 months of the HSE assuming primacy, with 90% of non-fatal investigations being completed within 12 months of the incident date. In our view, this is a high bar that the HSE has set for itself. However in 2017/2018 the HSE ccompleted 81% of investigations into fatal accidents within 12 months of HSE receiving primacy. This is an impressive shift from the 43% reported in 2013/14, but it is not yet clear whether it is sustainable for the HSE to continue to reach this target.

Indeed these do seem challenging targets as investigations can, in our experience, take many years to complete. Often health and safety cases are complex in nature both in terms of the mechanism of the incident, surrounding circumstances and legally. Further, any changes in HSE personnel and other internal delays along the way often add to investigation timescales.

If they do continue to meet or exceed this target, it will no doubt be a welcome change to businesses who will no longer have to face prolonged investigations, which will save the time, trouble and resource that senior managers and directors currently have to dedicate to HSE investigations, sometimes many years after an event. On the other hand, to meet this 12-month deadline, the HSE will need to conduct more focused investigations, which may result in organisations having to react much quicker after an incident and respond more promptly to enquiries, including responses to invitations to provide PACE written submissions.

Reduce the likelihood of low frequency, high-impact catastrophic incidents

There are target areas for intervention throughout the higher-hazard industries to address priority issues. These interventions will focus on the control of high consequence risks from legionella, fairgrounds and major construction projects. This follows a similar action by the HSE in their 2017/18 business plan interventions on the fairground industry.

Comment

Those operating in the targeted industries should expect and be prepared for unannounced HSE visits in the coming year. Businesses that may be affected may wish to review their safety management systems, risk assessments and training requirements to best protect their position in preparation for when the inspector calls.

In light of the HSE’s aim to complete 80% of fatal investigations within 12 months, we would encourage all companies to proactively review their crisis management procedures and to have in place a strategy so that their interests can be protected in the aftermath of an incident.

The Spending Review and Autumn Statement confirmed that the HSE will receive reduced government funding over the 2018/19 period. We struggle therefore to see how the HSE will be able to meet its target of faster, more-effective investigations with limited funds. Perhaps the future will see the HSE directing even more of the costs of its investigations to those being investigated.

Read other items in the Health, Safety and Environment Brief - August 2018

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