Encentre has recently been involved in the development of new innovations in service delivery through information technology. The team are keen to emphasize the benefits of using exisitng forms of technology in regulatory services.
"Its not until you start experimenting with technology that you start to recognise it's potential worth for environmental health teams. It doesn't replace officers on the ground but can help steer practitioners away from ritualistic behaviour and enable service providers to become more focused on goals and risk (in other words, help us achieve what we are all here for)". As well as supporting Hampton principles, utilising IT authorities can:
Here are some examples of our recent applications:
ONLINE SERVICES & COMMUNICATION
There are still some core areas where most local authorities are able to enhance service quality, for example, just by improving the use of their own websites and use of electronic communication. Delivering better information on the web, linked into automated replies and in email corresponence will, for many, provide simple and low-cost efficiencies. Performing some simple analysis of the interaction that takes place and the effectiveness of your service allows you to adapt and initiate improvements. Being able to identify patterns in the problems experienced will steer decisions as to where your online effort goes.
APP AND MOBILE TECHNOLOGY
App's have to be able to deliver efficiencies, improvements to servcie delivery or provide significant benefits to customers. We recently designed and produced the Noise Nuisance mobile application which can be used and promoted by any local authority in Britain. The Noise Nuisance App provides key information to complainants, convenient logging of noise events and enables officers to prioritise cases.
Encentre has also started to implement flexible and accessible solutions that will help transform intervention based strategies. One of the new mobile resources we have developed enables food hygiene inspections and paperwork to be completed and delivered fully on-site without the need for paper or an office. There are also opportunities available to integrate mobile solutions with existing IT systems. It has never been more important for Regulatory Servies to capitalise on the benefits that mobile technology offers.
One of the disciplines that local authorities sometimes struggle with is in the collection of reliable data. Data is increasingly required to justify and inform intervention strategies. For many the problem has been a cyclical one; without sufficent information the authority are unable to back-up their intervention strategy; nor do they have the ability to measure the effectiveness of their outputs. Systems we are currently developing will allow data to be collected in order to target strategies for the reduction of risk. Intelligence-led servcies allows service managers to implement evidence based intervention and education strategies.
A new National Local Authority Enforcement Code governing health and safety enforcers is due to be launched soon. The Code replaces the existing section 18 standard by outlining a risk based approach that health and safety enforcing authorities will need to adopt and provides the HSE with a stronger role in directing enforement activity.
In order to "reduce fears and costs for businesses" (Vince Cable), it is intended that proactive health and safety activities will be stopped, almost completely, through the Code. It has been suggested that this will enable time to be freed up in the private sector which will, in turn, help boost jobs and the economy.
Unannounced proactive inspections will be limited to a specific list of high risk activities published by the HSE. Whilst local authorities will still be able to educate and carry out other planned interventions these will need to be targetted to higher risk activities, in relation to matters of evident concern or those with a poor record. As well as some proactive work authorities will also continue reacting to complaints, accidents and incidents.
After Lofstedt established that health and safety legislation is fit for purpose the only other way it seems that administators were able to 'deregulate' would be to ensure that the legislation is not enforced. Most legislation provides an incentive to compliance through the threat of enforcement (call it 'fear' if you like). However, whilst the risk of an accident may be slim, the likelyhood of an inspection will now be almost nonexistent. Furthermore, there is a danger that exisiting premises records will quickly become out of date and any new premises will remain 'unregistered' (and therefore unchecked). It follows that, other than an educated guess as to the activity taking place, the only way of determining whether a workplace presents a high risk or not may be once the accident or ill health has been reported.
Stopping routine interventions is a brave move that, some say, will in time lead to a rise of accidents and ill health. However, an anarchic health and safety culture need not be an inevtiability. Despite the proposed changes there will still be an obligation on enforcing authorities to ensure that they implement effective enforcement plans. Those more innovative and informed of authorities, unburdened by the tie of routine inspections, may even view this as an opportunity to expand their range of 'intervention' activity.
Occupational health and safety enforcement and education activity will now be largely dependent upon enlightened managers who are motivated to research, identify and review local priorities. This won't come as much of a change to those local authorities already implementing 'needs based' or 'outcome related' strategies; for others, a more evidence based approach to service planning will need to be adopted in order to 'fill the void'. Like all core environmental health or regulatory functions The future of occupational health and safety services at local level lies very much in the hands of public service managers.
The changes are expected to be implemented from April 2013 but the consultation on the new Code is open until the 1st of March 2013 (see HSE website).
The FSA have recently announced that they will be participating in a pilot scheme to audit and rate food authority performance in Wales. It is not intended that the audit process itself will change radically but is more likely that the results of the audit will be transformed into a score (the methodology for which will be drawn up in due course). There is not much time though as in April 2013 a report on the pilot will be evaluated and the approach considered for extension.
The idea behind the scheme is to provide further transparency and clarity of information to consumers. Opposers have questioned though, whether will this actually be useful for, and empower, consumers in any way. Reports in the press suggest that the scheme has been welcomed by two of the 20 food authorities who have volunteered to pilot the project. However, other food authorities and bodies such as the Welsh food advisory committee have not been supportive of the proposal. Whilst the review into official controls continues to take place and local authority funding being cut dramatically the timing of the pilot is causing concern. Other professionals have raised immediate concerns citing the potential for a loss of confidence in enforcement and potential legal challenges.
However, due to the powers invested in the FSA under the Food Standards Act, they are well within their rights to ensure that the framework agreement is being implemented effectively and need to demonstrate their own competence as the primary food authority to the European Commission. In addition, similar approaches are already undertaken by other bodies with statutory oversight such as OFSTED and the Care Quality Commission. In response, the FSA have tried to reassure food authorities though by saying that there is no desire to 'gold plate' and as long as LA’s meet the standard in the framework agreement there would be no reason why the LA would not get a top score.
The FSA have taken on additional staff to undertake the pilot in Wales but its not sure if they are able to audit all UK food authorities. Their current auditing rate, based on focused subject specific audits, represents a small proportion of local authorities. But, hypothetically speaking, if this scheme were able to be realised across the UK is it really something that should be feared? Furthermore, could this form part of the answer to the official controls review?
The FSA have indicated that, in England, there is the potential for any additional auditing to include inter-authority auditing as well as traditional FSA auditing. Those food authorities not already participating are advised to implement third party or regional inter-authority auditing partnerships; having such arangements in place will bring food professionals up to speed with the process and help demonstrate the ongoing committment to quality, consistency and transparency that the FSA are looking for.
Third party audits are currently available from Encentre. Contact us for more information.