Today the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) and Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are holding their first ever public meeting, where they are asking those attending to help decide Britain’s health and safety priorities for the next three years.
Over 300 guests from major commercial companies, unions, professional associations, and local and national government, as well as individual members of the public, meet to tell the HSC what it thinks of its draft strategic plan for 2001-2004.
HSC Chair Bill Callaghan said: “As an independent safety regulator, the HSC must act openly to keep the public’s trust. There has been considerable public concern over recent events in Britain’s railway, nuclear and construction industries. This is an opportunity for all those with a stake in the health and safety debate to influence the way we prioritise health and safety in this country.
“We have drawn up a plan which we believe makes the best use of the HSE’s resources, but we are quite prepared to listen and change those priorities if there is strong agreement from the floor for us to do so.”
In addition to regulating the railways and Britain’s major hazards industries, the strategic plan prioritises eight key programmes of activity over the next three years.
Mr Callaghan said: “We need to prioritise what we do more effectively. In the past we have perhaps had too many priorities and the time has come for us to concentrate squarely on those that will get the best results. To do this, we need to look at improving the working environment more generally to promote good health, as well as preventing accidents.”
Three of the targets focus on specific industries – construction, agriculture and the Health Service sector – where the HSC considers there is a pressing need for health and safety improvements.
Mr Callaghan commented: “The construction and agricultural sectors have been a continuing source of concern to us. But also, the record of the Health Service needs to improve. Hospital staff face a number of workplace risks, including back pain from lifting patients, stress, and violence from members of the public.”
Four programmes will prioritise specific issues: muscoskeletal disorders; work-related stress; workplace transport; and falls from heights. The eighth priority is to reduce slips, trips and falls within the local authority-enforced sector.
Mr Callaghan said: “The arguments surrounding health and safety are passionate – and rightly so. There can be no higher stakes than the safeguarding of human life and health. Looking at wider issues, some people say that there is too much health and safety regulation in Britain, others that there is not enough. What risks should we tolerate as a society, how should we handle them and at what cost? This meeting gives the opportunity to examine all viewpoints.”
Mr Callaghan concluded: “The strategic plan is the key to achieving the tough health and safety targets that the Deputy Prime Minister and I announced last year. We are aiming to reach the half-way mark for each improvement by 2004 and it is therefore vital that we get our priorities right. Equally, the targets depend on consensus and co-operation between all the stakeholders involved in health and safety. Each must make a contribution towards achieving the targets, because we cannot do this on our own.”