HSE ‘could play greater role in health and wellbeing’, says DWP review

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HSE could do more to drive improvements in workplace health and wellbeing, a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) review has said.

While Britain has "one of the lowest rates of fatal and non-fatal work-related injury in Europe", the annual cost of poor mental health to employers has risen by a quarter since 2019, it says. Work-related ill health in general is also on the increase.

“Issues with mental health in the workplace need to be picked up from day one of employment; what is required is cultural change and that is never easy,” says the review, written by Gill Weeks OBE.

“I believe that HSE could play an even greater role and that the government could go further in setting out expectations for HSE on the role it can play in the drive to improve health and wellbeing,” she added.

The annual cost of poor mental health to employers has risen by a quarter since 2019. Photograph: iStock

The recommendations include for HSE to explore "better enforcement" in the health and wellbeing space. It should also review its stakeholder engagement, as well as updating guidance and improving its website. Work should take place over the next 9 months.

Commenting, Kevin Bridges, partner and head of health and safety law at Pinsent Masons, said: “The regulator has long taken the initiative in this area and is well placed to take on a bigger role. Quite what that will entail remains to be seen but the suggestion that it use its enforcement powers to compel a culture change should be given careful consideration.

“Health and wellbeing, as well as safety, must be at the forefront of boardroom agendas. Whatever the result of the recommendations, the political and public will for improvements shows no sign of abating.”

However, Weeks said that HSE needed help to achieve the aims she has outlined. “Better resourcing” is required if the HSE is to be “the catalyst for a major step forward in preventing ill health in the workplace”.

Further, HSE’s remit has become “exceptionally broad and far-reaching”. HSE has taken on the role of Building Safety Regulator, is spearheading chemical safety after Brexit, and advising on new risks such as climate change.

HSE must do all this while delivering an annual savings equating to 5 per cent of its overall budget by 2024/25 and “having to manage the challenges around resourcing and recruitment”. Tough choices may need to be made, she says.

“My conclusion is that HSE needs to quickly progress delivery of those savings and that any other substantial efficiency can only be delivered by delaying or ceasing current areas of work, which will mean difficult choices by Government, as no readily acceptable areas were presented to me.”

HSE was last reviewed in November 2018 under the Cabinet Office’s guidance for Tailored Reviews of arm’s-length bodies and before that, in 2013, there was a major Triennial Review.

Public Bodies review of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) here


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