The HSE isn’t just a regulatory body, however. It conducts its own research and works with collaborators from industry and academia across a wide range of topics, all under the umbrella of health and safety research. This somewhat unique twinning of responsibilities—collaborator and regulator—is one of the organization’s strengths, according to Neil Bourne, a professor in the department of mechanical, aerospace, and civil engineering at the University of Manchester who codirects a research institute created by the university and HSE. “The regulatory and science divisions work together in a way that coordinates and enhances them both,” he says. “HSE works with the industry rather than being a prescriptive and distant entity.”
The UK Health and Safety Executive – changing workers perspective on Safety
Bring up health and safety in many workplaces, and you get rolled eyes paired with comments about masses of red tape and wasted time. But the COVID-19 pandemic has refocused minds, especially as universities and industry laboratories reopen after shutdowns meant to control the spread of the novel coronavirus, says Ed Corbett, head of human and organizational performance at the British Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Science Division. Employers worldwide have been charged with making their work environments as safe from the virus as possible. In Great Britain, part of the HSE’s role is to support such efforts with advice and guidelines while also conducting spot checks to make sure workplaces are compliant with COVID-19-related rules.
The HSE employs more than 850 scientists and engineers. They work across several key areas of interest for the agency: data analysis, engineering, economics, health, human factors, major hazards, risk, and social and psychological sciences.
The social and psychological sciences groups conduct their own independent research, and they are also critical to the rest of the agency’s work. “You always have to be thinking about how to persuade people, industry, to adopt the changes that your research ends up recommending,” says Gareth Evans, principal scientist and professional lead for health at the HSE Science Division. “That’s where our multidisciplinary approach comes in.”
The organization is essentially a one-stop shop from idea to execution, he says. “We go all the way from identifying a problem and its causes, quantifying it, coming up with solutions, and then working out how to convince industry to adopt it,” Evans says. “This ability to see something all the way from concept to implementation is rare, and it’s why I joined HSE.”
The HSE’s research projects often start with consulting industry leaders because the HSE’s goal is to come up with data and findings that workplaces will actually use, says Corbett, who is on the Editorial Advisory Board of the journal ACS Chemical Health & Safety (ACS also publishes C&EN). “There’s clearly an interest for those types of research projects, and so we’ll work together on it, sharing the burden of funding and resources,” he says.