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What is the role of the Health and Safety Executive?
Dr Richard Dune
In Great Britain, health and safety laws apply to all work environments and public spaces. All employers, employees, contractors, and members of the public should be familiar with the health and safety laws that affect them, as well as their rights and responsibilities.
In this article, Dr Richard Dune discusses the role and responsibilities of the Health and Safety Executive, highlighting the areas that fall under its purview. As part of this series of blogs, Dr Dune seeks to simplify the current health and safety laws and regulations to make them more accessible to the general public.
The role of the Health and Safety Executive
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is a government agency under the Department of Work and Pensions. It is the responsibility of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to promote, regulate, and enforce workplace health, safety, and welfare, as well as to research occupational risks in Great Britain.
It was established by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 has since absorbed earlier regulatory bodies, such as the Factory Inspectorate and Railway Inspectorate. The HSE's Field Operations Directorate administers the Employment Medical Advisory Service.
HSE investigates small and large industrial accidents, including major incidents such as the Buncefield explosion and fire in 2005. Although it used to report to the Health and Safety Commission, the two bodies merged on 1 April 2008. The Railway Inspectorate was transferred to the Health and Safety Executive in 1990. In April 2006, the Railway Inspectorate was transferred to the Office of Rail Regulation, now known as the Office of Rail and Road. The Executive ceased to be responsible for railway safety.
Duties and responsibilities of HSE
Among the duties and responsibilities of the HSE are the following:
- Assist and encourage individuals concerned about implementing the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
- Organise and encourage research, publications, training, and information related to its activities
- Ensure that information and advisory services are provided to government departments, employers, employees, their respective representative organisations, and others. In this way, they are informed and appropriately advised about such matters.
- Propose relevant health and safety regulations in response to new risks.
The HSE should also inform the Secretary of State of its plans and ensure alignment with current policies, including following any directions it receives. The HSE may receive directions from the Secretary of State in exceptional circumstances.
HSE mission and priorities
The Health and Safety Executive oversees workplace safety in Great Britain. The HSE's mission is to protect people and places and help everyone live a healthier and safer lifestyle. In addition to protecting workers, the HSE aims to ensure that the public is safe at home, at work, and their surroundings.
Great Britain's health and safety laws are based on the principle that those who create risks are best positioned to control them. As a regulator, the HSE ensures that any action it takes is proportionate, targeted, consistent, transparent, and accountable to minimise adverse economic impacts.
HSE’s role as a regulator
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is responsible for preventing workplace deaths, injuries, and illnesses. They use a variety of methods to influence change and assist people in managing risks at work, including:
- Providing advice, guidance, and information
- Engaging and influencing workplaces to raise awareness
- Permissioning and licensing activities in major hazardous industries
- Conducting targeted inspections and investigations
- Enforcing the law to prevent harm and holding those who violate it accountable.
How HSE works with other regulators
HSE works with other government agencies to ensure that the most appropriate organisation is intervened upon. The employer is responsible for determining how regulatory and enforcement actions affect the business, including:
- The HSE inspection process
- How and when does HSE investigate
- Advice and guidance from the HSE
- Enforcement action by the HSE
- How and when to report accidents.
Structure and responsibilities
Local authorities enforce health and safety legislation in shops, offices, and other parts of the service sector. The HSE is composed of the following agencies:
- Health and Safety Executive, Science Division
- HM Inspectorate of Mines
- Offshore Safety Division
- Occupational Safety & Health Consultants Register (OSHCR).
Criticism of the Health and Safety Executive
The HSE's safety procedures have been criticised as insufficient. For instance, Lord Gill's public enquiry into the Stockline Plastics factory explosion criticised the HSE for failing to properly assess the risks associated with buried LPG pipes.
It is often argued that HSE regulations are overbroad, suffocating, and part of a nanny state. According to the Daily Telegraph, the HSE is part of a "compensation culture", has undemocratic and unaccountable rules and is costing jobs. The HSE, however, denies this, asserting that much of the criticism is misplaced since it pertains to issues outside its sphere of responsibility. Moreover, the HSE responded to criticism by publishing a "Myth of the Month" section on its website between 2007 and 2010, describing it as "exposing the various myths about 'health and safety”.
Health and safety regulations have become a political issue in the United Kingdom. Based on the Lord Young report, published in October 2010, several reforms were recommended. These reforms were designed to relieve businesses from unnecessary bureaucratic burdens and the fear of having to pay out unjustified damages claims and legal fees.
Areas of regulation
The HSE regulates health and safety in the industries listed in the following table.
Industries regulated by the Health and Safety Executive
- Air transport
- Armed forces
- Catering and hospitality
- Construction industries
- Crown establishments
- Chemical manufacture and storage industries
- Professional diving
- Education sector, e.g. schools
- Engineering sector
- Entertainment and leisure industry.
- Fire service
- Food and drink manufacturing
- Footwear and leather industries
- Health services, e.g. hospitals
- Gas supply and installation; Gas Safe Register
- Laundries and dry-cleaning
- Motor vehicle repair.
- Office work
- Offshore oil and gas installations
- Paper and board manufacturing industry
- Police forces
- Printing industries
- Public services
- The quarrying industry
- Recycling and waste management industries
- Textiles industries.
The Health and Safety Executive does its best to promote the well-being of everyone by enforcing work-related safety in different workplaces. The HSE does not only focus on employers but on employees as well. This results in a safer and healthier environment wherein no one would be required to bear the burden of injuries, accidents, or even death.
The HSE's duties have been updated according to changes in the workplace environment, technology and needs of the people. Innovations such as self-service tailoring, risk self-assessment, and pre-employment screening are now being used to help employers and employees achieve good health and safety at work.
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