Out-Law News 2 min. read

HSE expected to turn focus to mental health and building safety

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is expected to focus resources on ensuring businesses meet their obligations on mental health and building safety over the next decade, experts have said.

Kevin Bridges, Katherine Metcalfe and Zoe Betts of Pinsent Masons were commenting after the HSE published a new strategy applicable to its operations over the next decade.

The HSE has confirmed that its focus continues to be to ensure “those who create risk, take responsibility for controlling risk”. It warned that “those who fail to do so will be held to account and bear the cost”.

According to the strategy, the HSE will concentrate its efforts “on areas of greatest health and safety challenge”, with mental health and building safety two of the areas it is expected to focus on.

Health and safety expert Zoe Betts of Pinsent Masons said: “Physical safety of workers has long been a focus of the HSE, with their work in this area generally seen as the gold standard for other countries to emulate. However, recent statistics from the regulator suggest, not for the first time, that by contrast workplace ill health is on the rise.” 

The HSE has previously said more than 17 million working days were lost in the UK last year due to stress, anxiety, or depression as a result of which last year it launched its  ‘Working Minds’ campaign aimed at helping businesses recognise the signs of work-related stress and make tackling issues routine. In tandem the HSE called for a culture change across Britain’s workplaces to ensure psychological risks are treated in the same way as physical risks in health and safety risk management.

Kevin Bridges of Pinsent Masons, who specialises in health and safety law, said: “The mental health of the workforce has been moving up the boardroom agenda in recent years in recognition of the fact that people are often an organisation’s greatest asset; this has been particularly so in light of the impact on people of the coronavirus pandemic and related restrictions on their daily lives.”

“By highlighting that mental health with be a key area of focus, the HSE is sending a clear message to employers – make sure you properly assess where you currently stand in terms of the risks and mitigations you have in place in relation to both mental and physical wellbeing and put in place appropriate action plans tailored to your particular business. It is only a matter of time before we see enforcement action taken by the HSE in this area,” he said.

Earlier this month the UK government published the 2022 Building Safety Act, designed to update and bolster the existing building safety regime in England and Wales. In line with the Act, the HSE will soon be established as the new building safety regulator, and secondary legislation and published guidance is also expected in the coming months.

Katherine Metcalfe, a building safety expert at Pinsent Masons, said: “The HSE is keen to be seen as regulator with teeth in this area and has a track record of delivering results. Whilst not surprising, the inclusion of this as a key priority in the HSE’s strategy should be viewed as a signal that the regulator will take its new role seriously and will not hesitate to use the newly granted enforcement powers at its disposal.”

Amongst other priorities the HSE referenced in its strategy is a commitment to enable industry to innovate safely to prevent major incidents, supporting the move towards net zero. One early priority is to address the safety implications of using hydrogen for decarbonisation.

“The HSE’s 10-year strategy demonstrates its broad remit to regulate worker protection and public safety,” said Betts. “It also reflects society’s evolution towards a healthier nation, physically and mentally, which is using innovation and new technologies to deliver on the government’s commitment to achieve net zero greenhouse gas by 2050.”  

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