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News Extra: HSE business plan for 2016/7 focuses on control of risk and low-frequency, high-impact incidents

01 July 2016

The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) business plan for 2016/7 identifies control of risk and low-frequency, high-impact incidents as two particular areas of focus for the period. Alongside the other stated priorities, providing an effective regulatory framework and leading to improve workplace health and safety, HSE says these two areas are at the heart of its strategic intent to establish a 21st-century, world-class occupational health and safety system.<

As regards reducing the likelihood of low-frequency, high-impact incidents, HSE says a single incident could have catastrophic consequences and has the potential to undermine whole sectors by eroding the public’s trust and acceptance of complex, high hazard activities being undertaken.

Changes within these sectors continue and HSE as a regulator must respond effectively to ensure the potential for harm is minimised. In particular:

* more than half of UKCS4 offshore installations are now operating beyond their original design life. Investment in, for example, new fields and deeper waters will present challenges to the existing infrastructure and requirement for new technologies;

* the UK coal industry continues to decline, with the last large working coal mine recently ceasing production. Other extraction is growing, with oil and shale gas in particular having the potential for rapid expansion;

* the chemicals sector continues to change as some businesses move away from manufacturing high-volume/low-margin products to higher value-added specialised manufacturing and import models;

* the explosives sector is a relatively small but diverse sector. UK manufacture of explosive substances has largely been replaced by storage, assembly and processing of bought-in explosives, but there is increasing demand for bespoke products and high-value munitions; and

* the bio-economy is expected to grow, exemplified by the agenda to accelerate development not only in synthetic biology but also agri-science and regenerative medicine. HSE must meet the challenge of keeping pace with such changes while applying a proportionate regulatory approach which allows growth and development and retains public reassurance.

Priorities in this area for 2016/17 include:

* Focusing on leadership, worker involvement, competence and asset integrity – key elements across all major hazard sectors

* Embedding the new Offshore Directive regime, SEVESO III Directive and COMAH5 2015 Regulations through the respective joint Competent Authorities, and complete the reassessment of safety cases and safety reports

* Proactively engaging with industry bodies and other regulators across all of the major hazards sectors to ensure ongoing focus on safe production and improved major-hazard management, while keeping abreast of industry changes and responding accordingly
For the oil and gas sector specific actions include:

* Sustaining a focus on offshore asset integrity by working with Step Change in Safety Asset Integrity Steering Group and by publication of offshore inspection scores (within Offshore Statistics Report)

For the chemical processing, refining, bulk storage and distribution sector specific actions include:

* Engaging at a senior level with the COMAH Strategic Forum (COMAH SF) to deliver improved major hazard management across industry and to ensure efficient and effective delivery of the regulatory regime

In other specialist sectors, HSE says it will undertake a fundamental review of its policies and systems for licensing the manufacture and storage of explosives, taking into account changes in the sector. It will also work with stakeholders on governance arrangements for key developments in the biosciences.

In the area of emerging risks, HSE will build on the work of other government departments to assess the potential changes to the risk profile of the major hazards sector from an increased cyber threat.

As regards risk management and control, the plan says this will be achieved through a variety of interventions with businesses. This includes permissioning and licensing activities (eg asbestos licensing, pesticides and biocides), inspections, investigations of incidents and concerns raised by workers and others. It also means holding to account those who fail to meet their obligations to protect people from harm.

There is high demand for HSE to process risk assessments of biocide and pesticide active substances and products, both to reduce their potential harm to people or the environment and to maximise their benefits, i.e. ensuring essential products remain on the market and can be used safely.

HSE carries out intelligence-led inspections, collaborating with other regulators as necessary, where information indicates serious safety and health risks are not well controlled and where inspection is the best way to secure improved standards. These are delivered in line with sector strategies, with an emphasis on high-risk sectors and activities where inspection has been shown to be an effective tool (e.g. construction).

It investigates major events, selected incidents, cases of ill health and concerns, and finds out the causes, learns and shares lessons with those who could benefit and ensure the right controls are in place to prevent recurrence.

Through proportionate enforcement action HSE seeks to prevent harm, secure sustained improvement in the management of health and safety risk, and hold to account those who fail to meet their obligations to protect people from harm.

This approach, the plan says, supports a level playing field for those who invest appropriately in managing risk and work well. It deters those businesses who fail to meet their obligations or deliberately break the law and place others at risk.

Specific priorities in this area for 2016/17 include:

* Engage with SMEs affected by REACH3 registration deadlines

* Commence work to digitally enable the provision of asbestos licensing

* Target inspection activity on risk reduction, including sustaining focus on health risks

* Sustain improvement in the timely completion of investigations

* Refresh, test and launch communications materials relating to inspection and enforcement


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