Ep. 3 – Science, policy & public opinion: How the wheels turn – Science and policy in HSE

Ep. 3 – Science, policy & public opinion: How the wheels turn – Science and policy in HSE


Our role is to make sure we are
providing robust scientific evidence and explaining, articulating, describing that
in a way so it is really clear to our policy colleagues to make sure that uncertainties
have been very well explained. But it’s not the role of a government
scientist to be advocating a policy. When we visit workplaces what
we are interested in is what we call ‘the exposure scenario or the circumstances’. What is the totality of things that actually result in someone getting
exposed to hazardous substances. And what is the relationship
between what people can do, what engineering solutions can do and what checks and balances can be put
in place to tell people that they’re doing the right things. We try and start that process in
partnership with policymakers. So, understanding the real question that
they want to answer is absolutely critical to helping them address the
issues of concern. And then we would undertake
a series of research activities not just ourselves, but also drawing in
other parts of the UK research ecosystem, to ensure that we’ve got the right kind of evidence to address the question that’s being asked. We would then speak with the policy
colleagues after that research has been done and make sure that we were
communicating not just the findings but also any evidence gaps that might still remain and indeed the uncertainty that exists around the evidence that we’ve produced. You will only achieve these outcomes if you’ve got that clarity of
understanding you could have a group of very clever people sit around a table here and come up with what
they think are practical solutions, it ought to be easy for people to do that but the real test of that is in the workplace is it practical, is it achievable? And that’s what’s important
to achieve your policy outcomes. We look very much to, of course
confirm causality, but then we are always thinking about how we’re going to prevent that disease occurring. So, interventions are extremely few and far between very badly, properly evaluated. And I suspect the future is going to hold a lot more of proper evaluation of interventions. What people can actually do at work
to stop workers getting sick. So what we’ve been doing over the last few years through investing in research to work in partnership with technologists and centers that are testing
new manufacturing methods or new technologies is to say if we get
involved at an early stage whilst it’s being planned,
whilst it’s being evaluated then you’re in a much better position to understand whether there are new and significant risks for people getting exposed to hazardous substances. But also to know how you can influence
those industries and different bodies to undertake safe by design solutions. So by looking forward, by undertaking
foresight and horizon scanning work we can do some initial findings to see what those future issues might be.