Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by the Institute of Directors (HSE 13)


  1.  This is the IoD's response to the Committee's public invitation to comment, for its inquiry into the work of the HSE.

  2.  The IoD is an individual membership organisation made up of some sixty thousand directors of business and other important organisations worldwide. Over forty-eight thousand of the IoD's members are based in the United Kingdom.

  3.  Members of the IoD are drawn from all sectors and functions within organisations. These include people who are themselves professionals in health and safety. As an employing organisation itself, the IoD is in the business of seeking to carry out good health and safety practices. In both its capacity as a membership organisation and as an employing body, the IoD is affected by the work of the HSE.

  4.  The IoD is also involved in scrutinising Government and European Union (EU) policies for their effect on business. The IoD regularly comments on health and safety consultative documents, whether issued by the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) or the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR), for example. The IoD issues its own policy documents, that cover health and safety matters and their relevance to business. Several have appeared in the last few years. Underpinning the Institute's comments are various postal and telephone surveys of the membership, as well as contact with members and the geographically-based regions and branches of the IoD.


  5.  The main points:

    (a)  The IoD supports the need for good practice in health and safety, including health and safety at work. See paragraph 6.

    (b)  Bodies such as the HSE, working in partnership with businesses and other organisations, will probably have contributed to the good health and safety record of the UK as compared with some other countries. See paragraphs 6-7.

    (c)  There is a host of public sector bodies that have some responsibility for health, and health and safety issues. There seems to be a need for better "joined-up government", to make it easier for outside bodies or "users" to seek advice and guidance on health and safety matters. This is especially the case now that the HSE has been getting involved in "health" issues, and other matters such as stress, which have been the province of bodies such as the National Health Service and other agencies. See paragraph 8.

    (d)  Improved ways of dealing with businesses, especially small businesses, should be sought. Regulations are needed, but excessive and overly-complex regulations are not. Whereas the HSC and HSE are not legislators, they have important roles in the regulatory regime. These range over some of the documents issued by the HSC and HSE, to enforcement actions of certain HSE inspectors. Some of the documents need to be made easier to read and understand, and perhaps an even greater emphasis should be placed upon a "customer care" approach. The latter is especially important, given that the HSE acts not only as an advice-giver, but also an enforcer of EU and UK legislation. See paragraph 12.

    (e)  Consideration should be given to a change of name, to at least avoid the confusing references to the Health and Safety Commission and to the Health and Safety Executive. See paragraph 9.


  6.  The IoD supports and promotes good practice in business. It also supports the principle of good practice in the area of health and safety. We would consider that the UK has a good safety record at work by comparison with many countries, including some other EU members.

  7.  Part of that success will be due to the work of bodies such as the HSE. It is also important for the HSC and HSE to work with practitioners in business and other sectors to maximise the beneficial effects. We therefore welcome the intentions of the HSE to work with business. The "Good Health is Good Business" programme has been running for about four years. We would concur with the idea that good health can be good for business and business outcomes. That particular HSE programme is perhaps not as well known as it might be, if the results of an IoD member survey carried out by NOP Business in June 1998 are indicative. Some 5 per cent of the 500 directors surveyed at that time said that their organisation was involved in that HSE programme, although a further 8 per cent were involved in other joint initiatives on health at work, including involvement with local authorities, business organisations or others. See Health Matters in Business—Health at Work, IoD Research Paper, Geraint Day, August 1998.

  8.  In terms of liaison with the outside world, the fact that the HSE and local government are both involved in health and safety advice and enforcement, over different aspects, illustrates one thing that can affect responses to health and safety advice and enforcement. DETR's Consultation Document on Transport Safety (March 1999) also provides a good example, whereby there are well over a dozen public bodies that deal with transport safety. This is because not only are the HSE and local councils involved, but also the Department of Health and its constituent parts, including bodies such as the Health Education Authority (which has its own health at work programme). Clearly there is also very important work carried out by voluntary bodies such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and professional organisations like the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health. Now that the HSE is also increasingly involved in more of the "health" aspects of health and safety, and with issues such as stress, it may become more important to try to ensure that there is better "joined-up government", as far as the Government and public sector are concerned.

  9.  A minor point: it can be very confusing to refer to both the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive. It is not usual practice to make a distinction between a supervisory body (here, the Commission) and the executive, so it might be better to come up with one term that can be used both internally and—more importantly—by the outside world.


  10.  We support the need for legislation, and for enforcment of health and safety rules. However, and as with all regulations, there is a balance to be struck.

  11.  Health and safety at work rules can sometimes be of concern to many of the members of the IoD. For example, one IoD member survey showed that:

    (a)  One in five directors found the current health and safety set-up to be a burden on their business.

    (b)  The rules were most problematic to small, growing, businesses. A quarter of those which employed 21-100 people reported that they found health and safety rules a burden.

    (c)  Fifty-one percent of those [ie of those at 11(a) above] who felt that health and safety legislation was a burden indicated that there were too many rules, 62 per cent thought that they were too complicated and 30 per cent that they were badly enforced.

    (d)  A third of directors thought that small firms should not necessarily have to meet the same health and safety standards as large firms.

    (e)  Only 27 per cent found the HSE guidance notes easy to understand.

    (f)  A third of those directors whose organisation had been visited by an HSE inspector in the previous five years had reported that they did not find the inspector helpful.

    (g)  Fifty-five per cent of directors surveyed said that they did not know what the penalties for failing to comply with health and safety laws were. Of those who did, 25 per cent felt that the penalties were unfair. Only 14 per cent of directors said that they were aware of the procedures for appealing against unfair enforcement action.

  12.  The findings referred to in paragraph 11 are taken from Deregulation, IoD Economic Comment, Alison Cansfield, January 1997. Now, after the change of Government in the intervening period, we would still recommend that some of these issues be addressed:

    (a)  Improved ways of dealing with businesses, especially small businesses, should be sought. Regulations are needed, but excessive and overly-complex regulations are not. Whereas the HSC and HSE are not legislators, they have important roles in the regulatory regime. Clearly there must be due regard to protecting people from dangers, but with the best will in the world, it takes time and effort to digest, understand and implement the many and various regulations. This adds to business costs.

    (b)  More attention should be given to the HSE's enforcement role, in both uniformity of practice and a "customer care" role. Given that the HSC and HSE can act as both an advice-giver and an enforcer, these point are important.

    (c)  HSE documents should be made easier to read and understand. Many are. However, when, for example, HSC consultative or other documents set out in typescript for each proposed regulation or group of regulations: the regulations themselves, followed in some cases by a draft Approved Code of Practice, and guidance material, some readers have commented that they really do not find this easy to follow. Health and safety being an important issue, it must be important to ensure that those affected, and with responsibility to comment or to implement the regulations, are able to easily follow the material.

September 1999

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