Future focused debate at Health and Safety – What’s Next? in London

Delegates heard from experts at the very top of their respective fields in health and safety at The British Safety Council’s annual conference ‘Health and Safety – What’s Next?’ on Wednesday 23 September in London.

Bringing together stakeholders from every discipline within the industry, it was a chance to exchange knowledge and gain a window into the future of health and safety.

Statistics were perhaps the starkest demonstration of the challenges the future presents. HSE’s director of general regulation, Kevin Myers told us that while the UK remains one of the safest places to work in Europe, having the lowest rates of worker fatalities, there are 13,000 people dying each year from work-related illness. The shape of our workforce is changing too, explained Geoffrey Podger, a former chief executive of HSE, as two million more ageing workers are predicted to join the workforce annually in Europe, bringing with them new health complications, including of the worst kinds. There will be 1.7 million people dying from cancer by 2030, up from around 800,000 currently, according to new research highlighted by Professor Stephen Bevan of The Work Foundation in his keynote speech urging the new importance of well-being as part of the health agenda.

But, while there were challenges on the horizon, speakers also showed the way is now open for solutions proposed. “We’re now at a point where the government is starting to listen and where we can expect to create positive change for health and well-being in the workplace,” said Professor Bevan, who heads up the Health at Work Policy Unit. “I think there’s a fantastic opportunity for joining [disciplines in health and safety and well-being] for mutual advantage.”
 
In politics and legislation, speakers pointed to major shifts in Parliament and the courts. Mike Clancy, general secretary of Prospect, warned that the Trade Union Bill currently before Parliament, and which proposes to get rid of the auto subscription mechanism for membership, would have a detrimental effect on the quality of health and safety in organisations. “When unions are having to devote attention to ways of regaining their customers, they won’t be engaging on the constructive agendas for change, for good organisational design, for good jobs and safe work places – they will be surviving,” he warned. Ahead of new sentencing guidelines for health and safety and corporate manslaughter offences set to come into force in January, a panel of legal and health and safety experts, preceded by the opening speech from Dr Simon Joyston-Bechal, director, Turnstone Law, discussed the likely scope of fines and prison sentencing to come. Most clients were not aware of them, said Simon, who predicts a “massive dawning” of realisation. “Unless these guidelines are radically changed, we’re going to [see] judges led to very big sentences when they wouldn’t have otherwise done so.” 

From the coal face of the UK’s most demanding health and safety environments, delegates heard from speakers including Steve Hails, health and safety director at Crossrail, who outlined the project’s next challenges following completion of tunnelling. Amongst them included the arrival of new workers for the station fit out and systems phase: “We’ve got an awful lot of work to do to try and help them hit the ground running,” he said, pointing out that workers with less lengthy shifts would present one of the key hurdles for cultural integration and the ‘target zero’ safety policy. Mike Slater, past president of BOHS, talked of the ongoing relevance of the Breathe Freely campaign as over 500 construction workers are believed to die each year from silicosis. Glen Davies, programme manager, Freight and Fleet, Transport for London introduced new schemes for better safety on the roads from a ‘star rating’ mechanism for lorries (FORS) to the Safer Lorry scheme which launched earlier this month.

The event was concluded with the closing keynote from Geoffrey Podger, unperturbed by the EU question. “If the UK leaves the EU it could still be required to mirror EU safety rules,” he said, as part of the existing free trade deal.

Big changes afoot, therefore and differing opinions on the effects that they could have on health and safety. Health and Safety – What's next? left appropriately as many questions as likely answers to the lie of the future land. 

Download presentations from keynote speakers here
Pictures available here