Select Committee on Regulatory Reform Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Health and Safety Executive


    —  The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) welcomes the Regulatory Reform Committee's inquiry into the Better Regulation Executive (BRE) and the impact of the better regulation agenda.

    —  Since the early 1990s, HSE has been committed to the better regulation agenda and the principles of better regulation are an integral part of HSE's work.

    —  BRE has been focused on delivering regulatory reform over the last few years, and has provided a sound basis for taking this agenda forward through a number of initiatives. HSE has committed to playing its part, including the reduction of administrative burdens by 25%, without reducing levels of health and safety protection for workers.

    —  HSE has developed a good relationship with BRE on a wide range of areas. This relationship is important for both BRE and HSE in developing and delivering wider better regulation initiatives. HSE welcomes close working with BRE in order to maximise the benefits of this agenda for business.

    —  BRE has a sufficiently robust approach to measuring and reporting on performance and outcomes through a variety of mechanisms, including Simplification Plans and a review of regulators' implementation of the Hampton Report recommendations.

    —  HSE has already achieved some key successes under the better regulation agenda, including the creation of example risk assessments as part of its Sensible Risk Management campaign. Although there remain challenges, the renewed drive on this agenda from BRE has focused HSE's commitment to making a real difference to the ease of compliance for business.


  1.  The Health and Safety Commission (HSC) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) were established in 1974 by the Health and Safety at Work etc Act (HSWA) as two separate legal entities. HSC and HSE are statutory non-departmental public bodies, performing their functions on behalf of the Crown. Responsibility for HSC and HSE transferred to the Department for Work and Pensions in July 2002.

  2.  The HSWA sets out the general duties that employers have towards employees and members of the public, duties that employees have to themselves and to each other, and the duties of the self-employed. A fundamental principle of the legal framework is that the responsibility for health and safety lies with those who manage workplaces. They must assess the risks attached to their activity and take proportionate action to control them.

  3.  HSE advises and assists HSC. It has a statutory responsibility, along with Local Authorities (LAs), for the enforcement of the HSWA and other relevant statutory provisions in Great Britain. HSC and HSE work together to propose new laws and standards, to conduct and sponsor research, to promote training and to provide information and advice.

  4.  Following consultation, the Government has confirmed its intention to merge HSC and HSE into a single health and safety body. The aim of the merger and associated changes is to create a new unitary body to present a strong, clear and accountable external face, and which can internally provide better challenge and support for the HSE team. Subject to Parliamentary approval, HSC and HSE will shortly become a unitary body, retaining the HSE name.


  5.  HSC/E helped develop and has long followed the principles of good regulation—proportionality, accountability, consistency, transparency and targeting. In the early 1990s, HSE carried out a review of its regulation which resulted in a reduction in its stock of legislation by around 40%, largely by removing prescription in favour of goal-setting legislation.

  6.  HSC/E is committed to the protection of people's health and safety in the workplace. It constantly reviews how it can help businesses improve their performance in this area, and uses the better regulation agenda to guide its interventions. HSC/E fully supports the Government's aim to remove unnecessary paperwork or bureaucracy, demonstrated by its agreement to work towards reducing administrative burdens of health and safety regulation by 25% and to implement the recommendations from the Hampton report. HSC/E's latest Simplification Plan, published in December 2007, reaffirms its commitment to this agenda, in particular to better, smarter legislation that is easier to understand and apply. This helps businesses to comply with legislative requirements, and therefore improves health and safety outcomes, without any reduction in health and safety protection for workers.


  7.  HSE has a good working relationship with BRE colleagues. HSE engages frequently with BRE officials on development of better regulation initiatives. HSE's Chief Executive has biannual meetings with the BRE Chair and Chief Executive, and also attends the BRE's Heads of Regulators meetings. HSE's Better Regulation Team has close working contact with BRE officials on a daily basis; and its Board Level Champion for better regulation attends regular meetings. In recent years, HSE has seconded staff to work in BRE, both in established roles and for one-off projects.

Has the BRE developed a coherent strategy for implementing regulatory reform?

  8.  HSC/E believes that BRE is committed to implementing regulatory reform. This is demonstrated by the variety of better regulation initiatives introduced over the last couple of years. While its approach can sometimes appear to be reactive or unplanned, it has delivered a number of useful tools/processes that will help departments and regulators deliver wider regulatory reform, such as the new Impact Assessment toolkit.

  9.  In the last two years, BRE's main focus has been on HSE's delivery of the Government's target to reduce administrative burdens by 25%. There is a danger that if this is considered too rigidly it could result in HSC/E working on initiatives to meet a target at the expense of addressing real concerns of business and embedding regulatory reform across the organisation.

  10.  The Administrative Burdens Measurement Exercise (ABME) indicated a total annual administrative cost of health and safety legislation of £2.03 billion. HSC/E have committed to work to reduce this cost by 25%, which equates to a net reduction of £508 million.

  11.  By November 2007, HSE had reduced administrative costs by £97 million (net savings). A further £352 million of administrative costs had also been identified for reduction through current and future initiatives, equating to 22%, or £450 million, of the overall costs.

  12.  Meeting the target reduction will be challenging for HSE. Most health and safety legislation is EU derived and goal-setting and so the focus has been on clarifying the legal requirements through advice and guidance. Consequently, HSE's efforts to reduce costs are on initiatives that make a real difference to business, as well as addressing the highest cost requirements as shown in the ABME. This approach is set out HSC/E's Simplification Plan, which outlines progress made to date on the 25% reduction target, as well as describing HSE's proposed delivery of the wider better regulation agenda. Risk assessment was the highest costing requirement in the ABME at £600 million. To address this, HSE initiated a Sensible Risk Management (SRM) campaign. This is designed to improve risk management across business and to improve health and safety outcomes by showing businesses that risk assessment does not need to be complicated. It aims to reduce administrative costs by a third. A major part of the campaign is HSE's example risk assessments: 29 have been published for various types of business and have been praised by businesses.

  13.  Focusing efforts on making a difference to business does not always equate to reduction in the administrative burden. HSC/E is working to change risk-averse behaviour. Examples of this work are rebuttals of silly health and safety stories in the media, and HSE's "myth of the month" media campaign. This uses cartoons to tackle some of the most common health and safety myths that can lead to businesses complying with bureaucratic "requirements" that do not actually exist.

  14.  BRE has been actively engaged with the European Commission (EC) in influencing the better regulation agenda at a European level. For example, it has submitted dossiers of simplification proposals from across government, including from HSE, to the EC. Continued pressure from BRE will aid HSE's dealings with the individual Directorates-General responsible for the European legislation owned by HSE at a national level.

  15.  Whilst the volume of new BRE initiatives has been challenging for HSC/E to influence and respond to, it believes that the priority now should be delivery of its Simplification Plan, including embedding new approaches in the organisation. BRE officials have indicated that they share this view, which is welcome.

Does the BRE work effectively with other areas of government to implement regulatory reform initiatives?

  16.  Although HSC/E is an independent regulator with responsibility for proposing and enforcing occupational health and safety law, it applies better regulation principles to all its activities. This means that in addition to publishing annual Simplification Plans, it is subjected to scrutiny of its implementation of the Hampton recommendations. In 2007, along with the four other major regulators (Food Standards Agency, Financial Services Authority, Environment Agency and Office of Fair Trading), HSE's progress was reviewed by BRE and the National Audit Office.

  17.  HSE volunteered to be the first regulator reviewed on the implementation of the Hampton recommendations. Close consultation between BRE and HSE officials resulted in agreement on the scope of the review and its logistical arrangements. Following the review, HSC/E has worked with the other regulators and the BRE to consider how follow up to the recommendations is best reviewed—in HSE's case by the new HSE non-Executive Board (the current HSC).

  18.  BRE is also carrying out a review of the health and safety regime, with a particular focus on small, lower risk businesses. HSE's Chief Executive is a member of the review's steering group and an HSE inspector was seconded to the review team. The review team has also presented to the HSC. Its report is due to be published by BRE later this year.

  19.  As noted HSE has applied the five principles of good regulation to its enforcement activities for more than twelve years, notably through its Enforcement Policy Statement. Consequently, HSE was influential in shaping the recommendations of the Hampton Report. BRE colleagues have since worked closely with HSE in developing these principles into the Compliance Code, to which all regulators will have to have regard. HSC will shortly publish a statement to demonstrate how it meets the requirements of the Code.

  20.  BRE can perform a useful role in leading and co-ordinating some joined up initiatives between departments, for example on data-sharing. Closer working across government can help to deliver regulatory reform effectively and efficiently.

  21.  HSE faces challenges in delivering some aspects of regulatory reform. One such challenge is the Hampton recommendation to encourage economic progress. This recommendation does not sit comfortably with HSE's primary purpose of protecting people from harm at work. Whilst recognising that improving health and safety levels can improve business efficiency, HSC/E's primary focus must be on protecting people. BRE's understandable ambition to drive/implement regulatory reform needs to recognise that a "one-size fits all" approach is not always appropriate.

Is the approach to measuring and reporting on performance and outcomes sufficiently robust?

  22.  HSC/E believes that BRE's approach to measuring and reporting on performance and outcomes is sufficiently robust.

  23.  One of BRE's main tools for departments to report on performance is departmental Simplification Plans. HSC/E have published two Plans to date, both listing key projects and outlining progress in delivering the 25% administrative burden reduction target, as well as describing how HSE is working to deliver the wider better regulation agenda. Prior to publication, the HSC/E Simplification Plan is scrutinised by HSE and BRE officials, as well as officials of the Panel for Regulatory Accountability to ensure that the Plan is sufficiently robust and "fit for purpose".

  24.  BRE has developed an e-calculator. It will allow HSE, along with the other departments and regulators, to update the BRE's administrative burden database. One of the entries to be completed is stakeholder verification. Therefore HSE will be required to seek some degree of verification that the admin burden reduction has been noticed by business.

  25.  As previously noted, HSE has also been reviewed by the NAO and BRE in its implementation of the Hampton Report's recommendations. Close working between officials allowed a satisfactory framework for the review to be established. Although still to be published, HSE's report is generally positive and concluded that, in most respects, HSE complies with Hampton and Macrory principles. Where it identified the need for further work, this work is being taken forward.

Is the current approach to regulatory reform delivering genuine results?

  26.  As previously described, HSE has a good record in delivering regulatory reform and some of the initiatives in HSE's 2006 Simplification Plan reflected work already in hand. However, HSC/E welcomes the recent increased emphasis on delivering regulatory reform in the UK. HSE's Sensible Risk Management (SRM) campaign has been particularly successful in helping reduce the time business spends on risk assessment, while improving the control of health and safety risks. Business perception of the need for a lot of paperwork in carrying out a risk assessment was recognised as a problem and identified for action prior to the ABME. However, the ABME has helped focus attention on delivering measurable results. HSE's example risk assessments, which provide different types of business with an example of what "good enough" looks like, have been created in partnership with the relevant industries. Feedback from businesses has been very positive, and it should make a real difference to business.

  27.  A major challenge for HSE is to change business and public perceptions of occupational health and safety, and countering health and safety myths presented by the media. This is being tackled through HSE's SRM campaign, via the "myth of the month" campaign, as well as rebuttals of stories in the media and public speeches given by HSC's Chair. Whilst this work will not directly reduce administrative costs, making it clear that health and safety legislation is not bureaucratic will deliver a real benefit in helping businesses comply with legislative requirements and avoid over-interpretation.

March 2008

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