Headlines: December 13th, 2002

The Health and Safety Executive has taken an important step in its preparations for implementation of the Freedom of Information Act and the recommendations on openness in government made by the Philips inquiry into BSE.The HSE has become one of the first government bodies to report on its openness procedures and practices. The report, prepared by the independent Constitution Unit at University College London is based on an evaluation of staff attitudes towards openness and the effectiveness of current systems.

It also looks at the perceptions which stakeholders have of the Executive as an open organisation. The stakeholders were drawn from the specialist and national media, industry, unions, business and non-government organizations. Most of those questioned considered the HSE to be open and trustworthy, but some thought there was a bias toward employers’ interests.

The report found a good general awareness among staff of the importance of openness and of the legal requirements to protect confidential data. The HSE Director General, Timothy Walker said, “The HSE is committed to becoming, in its attitude, operations, policies and processes, a leading example across Government of an open and accountable organisation.”

Professor Robert Hazell from the Constitution Unit said the Executive deserved credit in taking this initiative. “No other public body has commissioned such a detailed independent audit of its openness policies and procedures, ” he said. And he added, “HSE come out of the study pretty well, because they fully understand how crucial openness is to maintaining public trust and confidence. We hope their example will be followed by others”.