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Quarry Products Association awards ceremony

Judith Hackitt CBE, HSC Chair, 19 October 2007

First of all let me thank you for inviting me to join you here today at the Quarry Products Association Awards Ceremony. This is one of my first public speaking engagements since becoming Chair of the Health and Safety Commission on 1st October. I am particularly pleased that the occasion is one involving a trade association because many of you will be aware that I am a strong believer in the important influential role that Trade Associations can play in delivering improved health and safety performance in a sector. During my time in the Chemical industry and particularly my eight years at the Chemical Industries Association I was always very proud of our Responsible Care programme.

All too often people see Trade Associations as lobbying organisations who are there to protect their industry and fend off regulation. The phrase “lowest common denominator” is often used. Whilst I acknowledge that this is the raison d’etre for some trade associations, the real leaders in the field are those organisations who work hard to raise standards and performance within the industry and who, like us in the Health and Safety Commission and Executive, seek to ensure a common sense approach to proportionate and effective regulation.

An organisation like HSC/E which covers all of the GB workplaces and industry sectors cannot hope to be expert in everything. You know your sector much better than we ever will – you understand the challenges, you know where good practice exists and you have the means and the fora available to share that good practice – through peer pressure, workshops, joint working and many other means. This is actually highest common denominator territory – not lowest.

Having come from an industry sector where positive media coverage was a rarity, I now find myself leading an organisation which suffers similarly at the hands of the media and others. I am saddened as a GB citizen and member of the public by the number of things I am told I cannot do or others cannot do for me in the name of ‘health and safety’. It is particularly difficult for me to listen to because:

  1. it’s not true – it’s an excuse; and
  2. more importantly in my view, it devalues what real ‘health and safety’ is all about.

When I was myself a young plant manager (more than 25 years ago) I recall that people often asked me "what do you want – production or safety?". My answer then – and now – is simple – "Both" and I know that it is possible to have both and that the two are compatible.

Health & Safety is about enabling business to conduct its work safely and sustainably. It is in this context that the Health and Safety Executive is able to work in partnership with organisations like the Quarry Products Association and with companies. And it is in this same context that within companies, employers, employees and contractors can work together with the shared aims of getting the business done safely.

The best and most effective health and safety management regimes are those that are led from the top. This is about hearts and minds being truly committed to health and safety as good business practice – not form filling, bureaucracy, red tape and work not done.

Sensible risk management is key. Part of being sensible is to focus on the risks that matter to your business and your sector. Whilst the dangers of falls from heights, slips trips and falls, vehicle safety and protecting backs may seem like generic issues which are the same in all sectors – we know this is not strictly the case. The nature of those hazards and the way in which the risks are managed and controlled is often sector specific. It is also a reality that every sector or business must tackle issues in priority order and not all at once. The people who know what is most important and what can be fixed most easily are often those at the sharp end – the workforce and their involvement in the process of prioritisation and continuous improvement is essential.

Training of the workforce can also play a key role in underpinning many aspects of business performance – increasing skills and competency to do a job safely often leads to greater efficiency – a win-win for everyone.

Over the last few years the quarrying industry has demonstrated an impressive performance.

You have more than halved the accident rate within the sector and by doing so you set an example to others in your industry and to other sectors of what can be done.

It is inevitable that the challenges you face in the future will get tougher – perhaps some of the wins to date have been the easier or more obvious ones; you also face the challenge of reaching out to companies who may not yet be members of your organisation – especially if their performance is the weak link in the overall picture of your industry’s performance. Extending your programme to include contractors as well as your own employees will also present new challenges as will combining workplace health with the safety agenda – but I want to encourage you to keep going – the rewards to be gained from this are immense. Not only in enabling events like this to take place where you can celebrate your achievements but pride in being a leading industry in health and safety and in having a workforce who know that you care about them and their wellbeing at work.

There can be no question but that the target is zero – of course it is – to aim for anything other than that is to imply that some level of injury and suffering is acceptable or inevitable. But it is also true that this may take a long time to achieve – you may not even get there, so it is equally important to set interim goals and objectives to measure and manage your continued commitment and new initiatives.

Your latest commitment on reducing exposure to silica is particularly welcome but here is also a good example of where the benefits of this work will be difficult to measure in the short to medium term.

Two of Sir Bill Callaghan’s last engagements as chair were visits to quarries and Sir Bill’s predecessor Sir Frank Davies is here today to present an award. We have a constructive and enduring relationship.

We want our partnership with you to continue and we want it to be a healthy partnership where we can work together but also provide a constructive and sometimes critical feedback both ways.

I look forward to working with you and supporting you in your very laudable work to reduce and eliminate accidents and ill health in the quarrying industry. I am delighted to be here today to speak to you and to present some of your awards.
Updated 2010-01-13