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Regulation or deregulation?

21st October 2014

Martin Barnard reviews the 23rd Capita Health and Safety Lecture which was given this year by Professor Ragnar Löfstedt - Director, King’s Centre for Risk Management King’s College, London on Wednesday 01 October...

In a lively and humorous presentation, Ragnar set out the background to his 2011 Review of Health and Safety Regulation (commissioned by the government), the issues which emerged from that review and, most usefully, gave a number of pointers as to where the future direction of regulation may lie.

Download the lecture slide deck and synopsis

He delivered a clear explanation of the review findings which struck a positive chord with the experiences of most of the audience i.e. the importance of maintaining the fundamentals of the existing legal framework, whilst reducing the amount of legislation by removing out-of-date or marginal regulations.

All the above appears reasonable and sensible but, as emerged in the lecture, such actions have proved easier said than done...

Perhaps indicative of the challenges which face those active in the world of health and safety, Ragnar’s explanation of what emerged from the review revealed the diversity of opinions held on how his recommendations were to be defined and interpreted, together with what seemed to be a somewhat partisan desire to maintain the status-quo. By quoting several examples he reinforced his puzzlement, particularly given the starting point of all 26 of his recommendations being immediately accepted by government.

Above: our 2014 speakers (l-r): Professor Ragnar Löfstedt - Director, King’s Centre for Risk Management, King’s College, London. Dawn Marriott-Sims - Joint Chief Operating Officer, Capita plc. Dylan Roberts - Director of Health & Safety, Skanska UK. Martin Barnard - Chair of Lecture, Capita.

Delivered with gusto and expression, the strands of Ragnar’s arguments progressively came together in a manner in which the identification of the symptoms led to a clear diagnosis of the problem. No-one in the audience showed any disbelief that the ‘health and safety’ patient was suffering from being overly politicised.

Having revealed the problem, Ragnar usefully offered up a range of remedies which would revive what many would regard as the ailing patient i.e. tonics which struck a chord with the aspiration set out by Dawn Marriott-Sims, joint chief operating officer of Capita plc, in her welcome address.

The arguments blended together to remind us that in many organisations there is no ailment to worry about i.e. the importance attached to health, safety and well-being has caused it to rise above all other matters, be they political, financial or otherwise.

Under the banner of ‘Taking the (P) out of health and safety’, Ragnar listed the ways in which the effects of being politicised, both now and in the future, can be minimized. The detail can be found in the slide presentation but, in summary, he promoted the following ten point plan:-

  • Ensure an evidence-based approach to any review of regulation;
  • Minimise turnover of government/minister post-holders;
  • Accept the need for HSE to change e.g. FFI;
  • Support those making the sensible arguments;
  • Communicate better in co-operation with the press;
  • Work to reduce occupational ill-health via better research;
  • Target SME’s in key industries, such as construction;
  • Introduce risk learning into school curriculums;
  • Establish a risk select committee in the House of Lords;
  • Work with Europe, not against it. 

A lively and interesting debate followed which was in keeping with the increasingly knowledgeable and informed audiences which the lecture now attracts.

Both Ragnar, and Dylan Roberts, Director of Health and Safety for Skanska UK, rose to the challenge of exploring a diversity of questions asked and comments made. Those ranged from the European dimension, through ‘Fee for Intervention’ and early disclosure of relevant information, to the value of including the teaching of risk to young people. The latter point was closely allied to one of the remedies put forward by Ragnar in his presentation.

Dylan Roberts did an admirable job in drawing together a clear and focussed summary of what had been one of the broadest debates in the recent history of the lecture. His reference to ‘Bonkers Conkers’ did not seem out of place with an audience now bought into the argument that, where health and safety had been politicised, efforts should be made to move it into more rewarding and positive territory.

In agreeing with much of what Ragnar had argued, Dylan reflected the mood of the audience with his complimentary list of tonics to satisfy even the most cynical observer, such as:

  • Empowerment of people;
  • Engaging the media in a more pro-active way;
  • Industry to engage with education at all levels;
  • Need to put the health into health and safety;
  • Value of large businesses supporting SME’s;
  • Regulation should reflect the wishes of society and its future aspirations.

The lecture concluded with a reminder that we have had a similar deregulation debate before when, in the early/mid 1980’s, almost identical symptoms existed. Sadly they went untreated and led to tragedies such as Piper Alpha, which collectively claimed over 500 lives in only a few years. The immediate, and only, remedy then was more regulation.

We prefer Ragnar’s remedies - try them and we will all feel the better for it!

Martin Barnard of Capita was lecture chair

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