Changing landscape, exchanging ideas

8 Jul

On Wednesaday the British Safety Council held a conference entitled The changing health and safety landscape which heard from a variety of speakers on the reforms currently underway; their likely impact; law updates; and current health and safety challenges in different sectors.

It immediately struck me as an event which was far-reaching and all encompassing; the only shame was that there was so much to say and listen to and not enough time for it all.

The morning was kicked off by British Safety Council chair of trustees Lynda Armstrong, where she spoke of the timely nature of the event and the extent of the breadth and depth of the changes underway. She talked about our upcoming meeting with Professor Löfstedt, where she, new chief executive Alex Botha and Neal Stone will contribute to the review with findings from consultation with our members. Lynda said that we must not lose sight of the benefits that come from good health and safety management while trying to relieve the burden on small businesses, which is where some issues remain to be addressed.

Dan Shears, national HS&E research and policy officer at the GMB union, and Steve Pointer, head of health and safety policy at EEF assessed the impact of the government’s reforms in their own ways. Their views generated some interesting questions from the audience as they discussed the ‘compensation culture’; the government’s Red Tape Challenge; the process of claims and HSE’s efficiency.

Neal was adamant that we shouldn’t just look to HSE for solutions in reaching compliance; that the challenge was for the British Safety Council and the wider health and safety community to be more persuasive, with more publicity and education finding its way to the right people.

Listening to these people talk, one thing was clear: each of these changes, no matter how big or small, will affect someone: that people are important; workers are important and employers need to share in the responsibility for being part of the changes, whether putting forward concerns and ideas or in how they implement them.

Presentations by two lawyers followed. Mark Tyler, partner at Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP, spoke of the “evolving scene” of health and safety claims, fines and punishment and how public concern can affect courts’ decisions. In his jovial way, he got a serious subject across to the audience, yet there was an underlying level of uncertainty as well. It seemed for every example one way there was another to prove the opposite. Lawyers in health and safety must be having an interesting time of it at the moment.

Alex took to the stage for his first speech as chief executive. His overriding message was one that our role should be to “inform, not hinder” in these processes of change. He then introduced Gordon MacDonald, HSE programme director and a big draw for attendees as he talked about the fee for intervention proposal. He was direct, clear and honest and tried to cover the concerns the delegates had. Some accepted the cost recovery proposals while others had worries related to smaller business or union reps. Questions to him spilled over into lunch and he readily accepted the bombardment.

I chaired the afternoon session which was given over to discussions related to current health and safety challenges in participants’ sectors. Speaking from the stage and sharing their issues and practices were Ros Seal from the ODA; Paul Haxell from Bovis Homes; Chris Craggs from McFarlane Telfer; and Zerxes Ginwalla from Searcy’s.

So many interesting points were made and experiences shared here that it was a pity there was little time for more discussion. However, I made a huge list of notes and exploratory questions that I am not going to simply cast aside.

This conference was about discussing changes and their likely impact; but more importantly than that, it was about sharing what people already do to make workplaces safer and healthier. From Ros talking about motivation to Chris noting the impact of positive feeling; form Paul explaining their ‘show don’t tell’ policy to Zerxes revealing the challenges of training a multicultural workforce – they all had messages of helping, bettering, evolving.

And that’s what I have taken away with me from Wednesday: that those delegates, whether they agree with everything said and debated or not, are there to make positive changes in people’s work lives; that throughout changes and ups and downs, they work to make sure that workers go home safe and healthy at the end of the day.

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