Britain's Occupational Safety Agency Trusted as Risk Regulator

April 24, 2003
A new report concludes the UK's Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is trusted as a risk regulator by the general public, although there is little understanding of the agency's core functions.

HSE has a high public trust profile arising from a perception of it as an organization that operates independent of vested interests, working for the public interest and raising awareness of health and safety issues rather than denying or attempting to explain them away.

Although the report, "Public Perception of Trust in HSE as a Risk Regulator," reveals widespread public knowledge of HSE, it identifies limited public understanding of its core functions and some knowledge of its operational activity (inspection and investigation), but very little of its policy, information and research functions.

Other findings include:

  • Levels of trust in HSE appear to be high, relative to other regulatory bodies and related stakeholder groups.
  • A broad cross-section the general public perceive the HSE's role in regulating occupational health and safety as a legitimate and necessary function of the government;
  • The public places a high level of emphasis on the need for health and safety regulators to "act in the public interest," as well as being effective in this respect and accountable for their actions;
  • There is a strong perception that HSE serves the public interest by caring for people and workers, and this was seen by the researchers as reason for the high levels of trust placed in the HSE by the public.

"This research is significant as it is a matter of great importance that we are a trusted organization, not only for ourselves, but also for those whom we regulate. Public trust in HSE strengthens public confidence in the regulatory system," said Dr. Laurence Golob of HSE's Risk Policy Unit.

The Health and Safety Commission (HSC) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are responsible for regulating occupational health and safety in Britain, performing a function very similar to that of OSHA. The two agencies regulate health and safety at nuclear installations and at mines, factories, farms, hospitals and schools, offshore gas and oil installations, the safety of the gas grid and the movement of dangerous goods and substances, railway safety, and many other aspects of the protection both of workers and the public. Local authorities, somewhat similar to state-plan states in the United States, report to HSC for enforcement in offices, shops and other parts of the services sector.

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