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British Safety Council conference at Vintners' Hall, London

Judith Hackitt CBE, HSE Chair, 2 July 2009

I have been asked to speak to you today about the new strategy for Health and Safety in Great Britain and how we will be taking it forward. But I also want to focus on the fundamental need for and key elements of leadership in health and safety.

The things I will talk about are not specific to leadership in the public sector because the key principles of leadership are universal - whether in the public sector, the private sector or any walk of life.

HSE published the draft of its new strategy for Health and Safety in Great Britain in December 2008 following extensive consultation - the final version was launched exactly a month ago on 3 June. The strategy describes the whole H&S system and makes it clear that HSE itself has important responsibilities - to lead the system as a whole, to inspect workplaces, to enforce where appropriate, to offer guidance and advice, to run major campaigns on key safety issues. But the strategy also makes it clear that it is not HSE's role to manage H&S in workplaces - that responsibility lies clearly with those who create the risk - the owners, directors, senior managers or "dutyholders" in organisations which constitute workplaces.

The real health and safety agenda - our collective mission is "the prevention of death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work activities". Our recent consultation has confirmed strong support for this being a mission which we all share - not something which belongs solely with the regulator.

Because real health and safety is such a unifying cause it is part of every organisation's activities where real leadership will bring profound and much further reaching benefits.

A fully integrated effective health and safety system in any organisation requires strong leadership, workforce involvement and engagement and competent, relevant expert advice and guidance. But of all of these things leadership is by far the most important because without leadership and commitment to create the right culture in the organisation it will be impossible to motivate employees to play their part, the necessary support and expertise from third party organisations will not be sought, and health and safety is likely to be seen as a ‘burden' and a must-do rather than a real driver for performance improvement which it can and should be.

The arguments for showing leadership in H&S are overwhelming. Not only will it lead to a reduction in numbers of people being harmed by work. But also to a major reduction in cost to the business or organisation and society of these losses and incidents, and a major potential improvement in motivation and productivity of workplaces because of the clear and inspirational leadership from the top. There is possibly even a 4th benefit from improved reputation with important stakeholders.

One of the key features of the strategy process thus far has been the extensive engagement with stakeholders. During the formal consultation phase over 700 people attended face to face workshops in 7 different locations to discuss the strategy. More than 200 organisations responded in writing to the consultation. At the formal launch event in June we invited organisations to make a formal commitment to join with us in becoming part of the solution by signing the H&S pledge. We were delighted that BSC and LGA were among the first to sign up and even more delighted that they have since been joined by close to 800 others.

This is real engagement and commitment. Not only have we received strong support for the principles and goals in our strategy but organisations are now signed up to working with us on delivery.

I am not talking here about putting in place hugely bureaucratic and paper based systems - procedures, checklists and the like. We know they exist in abundance already - but they are not what the strategy is about and certainly not what leadership is about.

Health and safety management is not about paperwork or elimination of all risk - it is and has always been about doing what is sensible and proportionate - what is ‘reasonably practicable' - to manage foreseeable risk and then getting on with the task.

Standards, frameworks and management systems have become increasingly popular as tools for delivering assurance to boards and organisations' stakeholders. There is no doubt that management systems can and do provide a good framework for structured and comprehensive management of risks. But that said, paperwork does not save lives.

Ensuring that an organisation's approach to health and safety remains grounded in what is practical and useful is fundamental to good leadership.

So if leadership in health and safety in more general terms is not about management systems, compliance assurance, performance measures and signs, what is it about??

Very simply - it's about common sense, personal responsibility and integrity.

By Common Sense - I really do mean doing what makes sense to you and which can be explained, with credibility, to others. It also means not over bureaucratising or trying to eliminate all risk. It means exercising judgment - as individual leaders - and creating a culture in your organisation where others are also encouraged to exercise judgment within their area of responsibility and competence. This means ensuring that your workforce are trained to exercise judgment, not just comply with rules and procedures.

This has some important implications for how all staff are trained in health and safety. The subject becomes much less about what the law says and what the law requires and becomes much more about how to apply the legal framework to the risks in your organisation in a practical and pragmatic way and in building everyone's competence and confidence to exercise judgment and think for themselves.

The nature of the debate which takes place at Board meetings is crucial to defining the culture of the whole organisation.

I have been told on numerous occasions by very senior directors in the private sector that "Safety is their No 1 priority and it's first on every board agenda". I have yet to be really convinced by anyone who has told me that. Good health and safety management should be a core value but it is unlikely to be the No 1 priority.

In the public sector, sometimes it is the focus on the services we provide to others that overrides the focus on taking care of the people in our own organisations. Caring for and serving others is at the heart of the public sector's ethos but the integrity and credibility of what we say we do has to be built upon doing it right in our own organisations first.

Leadership comes from actions not words, and one of the greatest risks to leadership integrity arises from "Do as I say, not as I do". The best management system imaginable will have a hole right through the middle of it if the actions of the Board are inconsistent with the instructions given to everyone else.

So, very clearly, leadership is key to achieving the goals of the strategy.

We need leadership to:

We need leadership to focus on the real risks and have the confidence not to bother with trivia and unimportant issues.

Every organisation will have a different risk profile - for some organisations, health issues will be higher on the agenda whether that be related to stress or harm caused by exposure to harmful effects in the workplace. In other organisations or sectors real physical safety issues will continue to be the highest priority - waste and recycling activities with local government are prime examples of this.

Leaders in every organisation need to determine their priorities and focus on those risks which are real and pressing for them.

We need leadership from competent health and safety professionals - to give sensible and proportionate advice which is fit for purpose and tailored to address the risk profile of the organisation. Advice and management systems offered to large organisations will often be inappropriate and indeed ‘over the top' for small organisations.

That's why our strategy makes it clear that we are looking for competence to be measured not only in terms of knowledge but also ability to apply that knowledge sensibly, proportionately and ethically.

The start of the journey with the new strategy has so far been better than we could have hoped for. It's received strong support and commitment to work with us to make it happen. People have been greatly encouraged by our decision to make HSE's advice and guidance freely available via the web - it has been hailed as real evidence of our willingness to help SMEs and to support managers, employees and H&S professionals in organisations of all sizes who want to do the right thing.

Some people have questioned our robust statement in the strategy on the use of enforcement to secure justice. But this is also part of being effective leaders - learning lessons and ensuring that this learning is shared is what effective leaders do - as well as holding people to account for their actions. Good leaders praise and support those who want to do the right thing but take firm action against those who flout or ignore their responsibilities - HSE is no exception - we want not only to lead the system but to demonstrate good leadership.

I know that there is an expectation that we need to be able to measure progress with delivery of the strategy - we will measure progress and we are already thinking about what those measures will be. But we very deliberately did not include targets and measurement in the strategy because we wanted people to buy into the principles and goals and sign up to be part of the solution first. Now, when we do measure progress there can be no doubt that we will be measuring our collective progress in delivering the strategy not just HSE's.

HSE's own delivery plans are well advanced and for the first year have been built into the already published 2009/10 Business Plan. My hope is that the 800 organisations who have signed the pledge will develop their own delivery plans and we stand ready to support them in this.

I hope very much that you have a fruitful meeting today as you focus particularly on the H&S challenges facing the National Health Service and Local Authorities in Great Britain. I would urge you all to think about the role that you can play in delivery - I look forward to seeing a large number of leaders emerge from amongst you.

Updated 2009-08-07