An unwanted goodbye to Dame Judith - Helmsman Services

I’ll miss HSE’s Chair, Dame Judith Hackett, who has left after 8½ years during which time, in my opinion, she has successfully made an impression on the health and safety industry and the general public.  Her attitude that health and safety should not be just a paper exercise and that it should not be used by organisations as an excuse for making stupid rules (that are often imposed by insurance companies or a fear of ‘ambulance chasers’) is hopefully going to be continued by whoever takes her place.

In one of her last speeches prior to leaving, Dame Judith said that in a search for continuous improvement there can be a temptation for businesses and other organisations to go over the top and set disproportionate standards for staff and supply chains.

I can totally agree with this as we have had a few H&S Managers of large construction companies want Risk Assessments and Method Statements that are so over-the-top that it makes me wonder whether it is just to keep them in a job!  A Client was recently asked to build two 1m square sample single skin brick and block walls in a car park belonging to the main contractor to show the quality of their work. The H&S Manager of the Main Contractor insisted on having 4 pages of minute detail which did seem somewhat unnecessary.  Surely what should have been the requirement was to ensure that controls were in place and that the work was actually being done safely, not that there was some paperwork to say that it would be?

Dame Judith went on to say that there is too much complexity and bureaucracy which has built up around health and safety. Here! Here! Her message was that H&S is about being smarter – not simply doing more e.g. by ensuring that there is a load of paperwork so that a person can put a ‘tick in the box’.  She said that by keeping things as simple and straightforward as possible we can ensure that all businesses see this as enabling them to be successful and productive. It’s in all of our interests to avoid feeding perceptions that risk assessments mean excessive paperwork, or that risk management means managing all risks, however trivial or remote. This can be costly and inhibits productivity, creativity and growth.

So I hope that the H&S Manager of the Main Contractor above has seen this and changes his attitude!

It is also good to see that the HSE’s Plan for 2016-17 has a priority to take forward a proposal to place more emphasis on risk control and less on written assessment but without reducing standards.  So many H&S professionals rely too much on the written word to have something to show if something goes wrong – it’s really just a way of passing risk on to the next one down. What many don’t do is then follow up whether the contractor is actually performing what is written.  A move to ensuring that the work is being done safely, is far more relevant than having it written down.

It is also good that HSE are to focus on the timeliness of investigations and in clearing the backlog of long term major investigations. It is horrific to see a prosecution over an incident that can be 8 years old – and most are 3 years plus.  This is totally contrary to the British tenet of having a fair trial.  The burden of proof in health and safety prosecutions is shifted to a defendant proving that they had complied with legislation but if a prosecution takes so long to come to court, witnesses have forgotten what happened and even left companies and become untraceable – so the chances of defending such a prosecution are much reduced.  Let alone the fact that many companies, faced with a hefty fine, chose to close up!

Well done to Dame Judith and here’s to a continuing regime that sees our accident stats further reduce.

Tony Willson

Helmsman Services Ltd