The head of the UK’s Health & Safety Executive, Judith Hackitt has released part of a letter that she sent to Lord Young of Graffham on the announcement of his OHS review. According to Hackitt’s media statement she advised
“The terms of reference of your review extend beyond HSE’s remit, which is concerned with addressing real risks and preventing death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work related activities.
“However, we in HSE have been saying for some time that health and safety is being used by too many as a convenient excuse to hide behind.”
Hackitt welcomed the review and has released Lord Young’s response in which he says:
“Thank you for your letter of 14 June confirming your commitment to the review commissioned by the Prime Minister into Health and Safety and the growth of the compensation culture. It is reassuring to know that you fully support this work and that you recognise the intent behind it.”
It may be that Lord Young will endeavour to distinguish between safety and occupational safety – a demarcation that worked for many years based on the geographical and mental limitations of the factory fence. But this would not recognise two important changes in occupational safety
- In some occupations a workplace is wherever work is done; and
- The impact of psychosocial hazards has no geographical boundaries.
All current indications are that Lord Young does not have the necessary skill base or sufficiently broad experience to provide the inclusive and visionary review that is required for modern OHS. In shorthand, he is no Dame Carol Black.
The snippets of correspondence provided above show that Judith Hackitt wants the review to focus on reality and evidence rather than meeting a party political imperative. Lord Young’s reiteration of the very brief terms of reference and the omission of the term “occupational” in the letter and, indeed, in the Prime Minister’s media statement on 14 June 2010, are grounds for concern.
Perhaps HSE simply needs to keep its head down, cooperate as much as it can and allow Lord Young’s findings to speak for themselves. Lord Young may recommend changes that affect the HSE or he could just as likely release a report that ends up compounding the social misunderstandings of the role of OHS in a modern society. Either way, the results are some time off.