New HSE Chair Sarah Newton reflects on the past year

Sarah Newton, who became Chair of the Health & Safety Executive in August, reflects on her first months in the job.

Sarah Newton, who replaced Martin Temple as chair of the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) in August last year, reflects on her first months with the organisation in a blog she says will become a frequent feature of the HSE website, authored by others from the organisation as well as her.

The former Conservative MP (2010-19) whose responsibilities at the Home Office included tackling modern slavery, says: "My overarching opinion of HSE since I became Chair in August last year is a hugely positive one. My first impressions are of a regulator staffed by passionate, committed and expert individuals who are fully engaged with and behind HSE’s core mission."

As HSE has been responsible for enforcing the restrictions on work imposed in response to the coronavirus, her time with HSE has been exceptional.

"It’s worth mentioning that from all the conversations I’ve had with our people, it seems we have found the vast majority of businesses and workplaces are willing to follow government advice, make necessary changes promptly, without the need for enforcement action from us." However, she says when it has been necessary HSE has not shrunk from taking action. 

She lists some of the ways HSE has been involved in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic:

  • shifting HSE resources on to Covid-related work (benefitting from an additional £14million to its budget to add in new services to support workers and employers)
  • completing more than 165,700 Covid-19 spot checks
  • responding to more than 210,000 reported workplace concerns
  • supporting public health bodies on 646 reported outbreaks
  • carrying out spot checks on industries, including construction, where workers are most likely to be vulnerable to transmission risks
  • leading a Covid-19 government-funded national core study on the transmission of COVID-19 in the environment, which includes in workplaces, transport and other public settings, with the intention of answering policy and operational questions about the coronavirus pandemic.

Sarah Newton: "All of the above, and more, has taken place against a backdrop of HSE continuing to regulate traditional, non-Covid related occupational health and safety in a multitude of industries, as well as setting up the new Building Safety Regulator and dealing with the complex regulatory responsibilities associated with the end of the EU transition period and the intake of new staff that these have entailed. I think that’s a real achievement everyone in HSE can be proud of."