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Nebosh graduation event, Warwick

Judith Hackitt CBE, HSE Chair

1 July 2009

The last time I attended an auspicious event like this was a year ago - and it was my own daughter’s graduation at St Andrews University. I was a proud parent sitting in the audience and the whole ceremony was conducted in Latin. Well, the good news is that I have no intention of speaking to you in Latin today but I do know the sense of real pride that all of the guests in the audience here today feel as they witness this celebration of achievement.

The National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health is a very highly regarded organisation. Founded in 1979, its qualifications are recognised by professional organisations around the world including the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health and the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management. You have been well trained and educated in a very important subject. You will all have unique personal stories about what brought you to the world of health and safety and what caused you to embark upon this Diploma course. Whatever those individual reasons may have been I am confident that there is one thing you all have in common - you care very much about other people and want to play your part in preventing them being harmed by their work or causing harm to others by their work activities. You have made a very good choice of career - you will make a difference, you will improve people’s working lives and many of you will literally save lives.

I want to add my personal congratulations to each and every one of you - on your hard work, your achievement in gaining your diploma and in choosing what I am sure will be a very rewarding and fulfilling career path. You now have a very good understanding of the very wide range of risks which exist in all sorts of workplaces and you have knowledge of appropriate systems to manage those risks - not to eliminate them altogether - because that will never be possible or practical - but to take a common sense and proportionate approach in assisting employers and employees to deal with the real risks in a practical and sensible way - not to get sidetracked by trivial risks or reams of paperwork and bureaucracy.

Your graduation takes place at a time which is both challenging and exciting to those of us engaged in this profession. Just one month ago, the Health and Safety Executive launched its new strategy for health and safety in Great Britain in the 21st Century.

What’s very important for everyone to recognise is that this is truly a strategy for Great Britain - it describes the roles and responsibilities we all have and the parts we must all play if we are to achieve our purpose of preventing death, injury and ill health on Great Britain’s workplaces.

Everything we all do needs to be aimed at getting the right balance - avoiding harm as far as is possible whilst enabling work activities to proceed. Contrary to those popular myths we all read in  newspapers every day we are not here to eliminate risk by stopping work - and play - and trying to wrap the world in cotton wool.

The role of HSE and our Local Authority partners as regulators is to provide strategic direction and lead the system as a whole. We carry out inspections, investigations and we take enforcement action when required, but we also conduct research, propose new regulations, alert dutyholders to new and emerging risks and provide information and guidance. Clearly part of the balance which we  have to maintain is between providing help and support to those who want to do the right thing and taking firm action against those who chose to flout or ignore the law.

But today is about you and your role not HSE’s, so let’s consider how important your role is going to be. To achieve the improvement in health and safety performance which we all want requires leadership. Leadership means accountability and visible ownership. Real health and safety leaders win hearts and minds of all their colleagues - directors, managers, workers and contractors. They shape the organisations’ ethos on health and safety - defining what’s important and not getting involved in trivia.

I hope that many of you will find yourselves working for organisations where that culture already exists and is led from the top. I had the privilege of working for an organisation which had that commitment and culture when I first graduated as an engineer and it is incredibly rewarding to work in an organisation where health and safety is truly integrated into the entire management process - and it was where I learned first hand that good health and safety really does lead to business success through increased efficiency and employee motivation.

But it is also very likely that some of you graduating today will join organisations where that culture is not yet present. Perhaps it will be your designated task to put it in place - now there’s a challenge! Where do you start?

There is no doubt that your NEBOSH diploma gives you an excellent foundation, not just in what the law requires but also in competent and sensible health and safety management. Now you have the opportunity to go out into the working environment and live out those principles of common sense and proportionality. Your task is to win hearts and minds - to really get people to buy into the importance and value of healthy, safe workplaces. It isn’t about producing procedures, management systems and bureaucracy - this is about people not paperwork.

Since we launched our new strategy which resets the direction for health and safety in Great Britain on the path of leadership, partnership and common sense more than 700 companies have signed up to our online pledge to work with us and address the challenges that lie ahead. 700 is great but there are many, many more organisations out there who I would like to see make that commitment. Has the organisation you are going to work for signed up? Ask them - and if they haven’t, take your first step on the leadership path by encouraging them to do so.

I am certain that all of you here today are going to have interesting and rewarding experiences in your working life - you will make a difference and you will know that what you do matters. But you will encounter cynics who will have a cheap laugh at your expense - ‘elf n safety’, conkers bonkers, Fun Police - you know the ones I mean. My challenge to you is to stand up to them - explain what we don’t do - the silly stuff - and then tell them about the really important stuff that we do - preventing people getting killed, injured and made seriously ill by work - remind them that we’re talking about over 100,000 suffering over 3 day lost time injuries every year in this country, with around 28,000 of these being serious burns, amputations and truly disabling injuries that may result in people never working again. Tell them that more than 4,000 people a year still die from asbestos related disease and more than 6,000 from work related cancer, as well as the 200 people on average who die in workplace accidents every year.

They’ll be surprised and they will take you seriously - we can and should be proud of what we do.

And so, finally, to finish where I started with those of you here today watching your son, daughter, partner, friend graduate. Be very proud of them - they have already done very well but they are going to achieve even more - they will be part of the solution and save lives and suffering.

Congratulations to you all and have a wonderful and memorable day.

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Updated 2010-09-27