….carry a big stick, you will go far.” So wrote Theodore Roosevelt, then Governor of New York, after forcing New York's Republican committee to pull support away from a corrupt financial adviser. It denotes the power to leverage demonstrable strength in support of measured negotiations.

In the context of UK located hazardous process industries, the Health and Safety Executive currently wields that stick. It was born from a 1974 act of parliament, where one of the key tenets was ‘It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his/her employees’. With a 2018 budget of £228m, the UKHSE is a UK government agency responsible for the encouragement, regulation and enforcement of workplace health, safety and welfare.

My professional contact with the HSE has been both limited and peripheral but, in my view, illuminating. An HSE inspection at UK explosives manufacturer Eley in 2016 (where trading on a ketchup sachet amount of product will blow your foot off) identified an operational safety gap. The company was advised (softly) that this gap could best be addressed by carrying out HAZOPs on their production process. They were further informed that implementation progress would be addressable in subsequent visits and action may be taken (up to and including withdrawal of operating licence – big stick).

And it worked. Eley quickly identified and attended a recognised HAZOP Training course, for which I happened to be the trainer, then requested my assistance in helping them launch a bespoke HAZOP program. I visited them earlier this year to find that the program had been completed, most closed out actions emanating therefrom making their operation safer than before.

My hunch is that if they had spoken aggressively and had a small stick, the outcome might not have been so heartening.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is a governmental body of the United States with powers to regulate all aspects of civil aviation in that nation as well as over its surrounding international waters. It’s stated mission is ‘to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world’. So, in the world of non-military flying in America, the FAA owns voice and the stick. On the face of it, the stick is quite large - $16bn and 45,000 employees in 2016. However, how it is being wielded and by whom seems to be open to question.

The FAA has been cited as an example of regulatory capture, defined by Steven M. Davidoff in a 2010 New York Times article as where "the airline industry openly dictates to its regulators its governing rules, arranging for not only beneficial regulation, but placing key people to head these regulators." It has been suggested that this dynamic may have contributed to the recent Boeing 787 max catastrophes, where 346 died in 2 separate incidents.

Our own industry has an enviable recent safety record. This is anecdotally reflected in a recent, near future risk perception survey of 30 Oil Exploration and Operating company executives carried out by the Institute of Risk Management. Whereas, 24 (80%) of them saw the oil price as ‘major’ and 15 (50%) felt that the Skills Gap was ‘major’ or ‘significant’, almost half (14 or 47%) rated Major Accident or Incident as ‘not at all’. My guess is that, at least some of the credit for this appraisal goes to National and International Regulatory Bodies such as the UKHSE.

So, when you don’t hear about Major Incidents and Accidents on the News (and if they happen, you certainly will), you may consider lifting a glass to our quiet and unassuming (but weaponised) regulatory people.

787 crash