Prospect Health and Safety conference 2023: Looking forward, thinking back

Chris Warburton · 26 April 2023

Our health and safety researcher Chris Warburton looks back on Prospect’s health and safety conference, which was held in London this week.

More than 60 health and safety reps from across the union attended Prospect’s ninth health and safety conference at Hamilton House in London on Tuesday, 25 April.

This was the first conference to be held in person since the outbreak of the covid pandemic and it was fantastic to see Prospect reps from across our different sectors: from energy to heritage; from the civil service to aviation.

In particular, it was great to see several Bectu branches, such as BBC Media City and North West and West End Commercial Theatres, represented too.

The diversity of the branches present underlines that health and safety is an important issue in all industries and all workplaces.

Conference programme

This year’s conference, which had a theme of ‘Looking forward, thinking back’, was also highly auspicious for a couple of 50th anniversaries.

For next year, 2024, the Health and Safety at Work Act turns 50 and last year was the 50th anniversary of the 1972 Robens’ report, the select committee report that provided much of the intellectual underpinning of our health and safety regulatory framework.

Both of these important H&S legislative landmarks was the focus of the talk to delegates from our first guest speaker, Kevin Myers, the former deputy chief executive of the Health and Safety Executive.

He explained that the hallmarks of the Robens’ philosophy are a goalsetting (rather than prescriptive) regulatory framework, and that the person who creates risk is responsible for its management in consultation with those who are exposed to it.

This remains  relevant today, Myers argued, even in the context of Brexit and the pandemic. But more thought needs to be given to how we can refine the framework to better address the changing nature of employment and the broader employment factors that can affect worker health and wellbeing.

Mike Clancy, Prospect general secretary, spoke at the conference to launch a new Prospect report on the crisis at the Health and Safety Executive, which has left the agency diminished and in growing danger of being unable to effectively carry out its vital functions.

The alarming report concludes:

The degree of pressure that HSE is under is increasing and, if not alleviated soon, at best HSE will be unable to sustain its reputation as a respected regulator and at worst, will struggle to exist even in diminished form.

Then, the morning session of the conference was brought to a close with three separate breakout sessions:

  • Organising for health and safety, led by Sam Gipson, senior organiser, Prospect
  • Accident investigations, led by Neil Hope-Collins, Vice-President, Prospect and HSE Inspector
  • Tackling stress, led by Peter Kelly, a psychologist and founder of Being Real Workplace Mental Health Solutions

In the afternoon session, delegates heard from Jeeva Sethu, a senior lawyer at Thompsons, who looked at the legal aspects of Brexit with regards to health and safety, and particularly how the EU Retained Law Bill, which Prospect has campaigned against, could lead to a dismantling of much of our regulatory framework.

The conference closed with a panel of experts looking at Worker health in the post-pandemic world – in what condition is it, what’s influencing it and what can we do to improve it?

The panel included:

  • Dr Jessica Allen, Deputy Director, Health Equity Institute
  • Prof Phil James, Professor of Employment Relations, Middlesex University Business School
  • Anjum Klair, Policy Officer, Trades Union Congress
  • Louise Murphy, Economist, Resolution Foundation

I hope that the delegates found the panel discussion to be a stimulating way to end the conference and that they’ll return to their workplaces invigorated to continue the vital work they all do to help keep their colleagues safe.

Finally, I’d like to thank Jim Henderson, of Prospect’s National Executive Committee, for chairing the conference and making the day run smoothly.