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Claims Club, General Insurance Industry Claims Managers Event, London

Judith Hackitt CBE, HSE Chair, 2 December 2009

It is a pleasure for me to be invited back again to the Claims Club. It is exactly a year ago since my first visit - on the same day that we launched our new Health and Safety Strategy for consultation.

My intention today is to talk to you about developments which have taken place over the last year:

I hope that these are the topics that will be of interest to you, but as ever, I will be more than happy to respond to any questions you have at the end of the presentation. Questions may relate to the topics I cover or any other aspects of HSE's work which is of interest to you - and I will do my very best to respond.

So, let's start where we left off last year - with the Strategy. We launched the new Strategy for consultation exactly a year ago and this was followed by a wide ranging 3 month consultation process. The final version of the Strategy was launched in June.

The Strategy describes the health and safety system as a whole, making clear that HSE itself has important responsibilities including:

However, the Strategy also outlines that it's not HSE's role to manage health and safety in workplaces. This responsibility clearly lies with those who create the risk, and thus own it - for example the owners, directors, senior managers - what we call the "dutyholders" in organisations.

As some of you may have heard me stress before, this is not new, and is  evolution not revolution. These responsibilities, which I've outlined, have always been the case. We should be very pleased in the UK that since the 1974 Health and Safety at Work etc Act, we've been effective, adaptable and resilient to the changes and challenges on health and safety. But of course we need to improve further especially given that the challenges we face today are different from those of the past.

So, whilst we continue to measure improvement year on year in health and safety performance, the rate of improvement has actually slowed a little. We recognise that we all need to work harder to deliver a step change improvement in our overall performance.

The real health and safety agenda is encapsulated in the collective mission in the new Strategy:

"the prevention of death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work activities".

And what the consultation process did - was to confirm that there was strong support for this being a mission that everyone across the health and safety field shares. To also be clear, delivery of health and safety is not something that belongs solely with HSE. There is a role here for each of us to play but we need to ensure clarity about what those respective roles are.

The consultation process itself and other work commissioned by the Risk and Regulatory Advisory Council (RRAC), which was set up by the Prime Minister in early 2008, has opened up the debate about the role of the Insurance Industry and the powerful influences it can have on attitudes to health and safety, and I will come to that later in my talk.

In recent years, we have seen many changes - not just within and to our actual workplaces but also in public expectation and societal values surrounding the world of work and health and safety. There has been evidence of confusion surrounding who was responsible for what in the health and safety arena (both within and outside organisations). In addition, the UK has seen a huge growth in the number of small- and medium-sized businesses, and less union-representation in workplaces. This situation is unlikely to change - an increasing proportion of employees are in SMEs. And, today's economic and business climate only adds to the challenge of uncertainty and a changing environment.

In this context, I believe the new Strategy is a clear and concise statement of our core principles and moreover it's a sensible approach to health and safety in Great Britain. The need for a new Strategy was led by the new HSE Board who were responding, amongst other things, to:

We, therefore, consciously invited people to tell us how they can contribute - and "Be part of the solution". One of the key features of the strategy process has been the extensive engagement with stakeholders. During the formal consultation phase, over 700 people attended face-to-face workshops in 7 different locations across the UK to discuss the strategy. More than 200 organisations responded in writing to the consultation. At the formal launch, organisations were invited to make a formal commitment to join us - to become part of the solution by signing the health and safety pledge. And what has been the response?

Well, we've been delighted that over 1,000 organisations have made a formal commitment to sign up to working with us to be part of the solution. HSE will be working with those organisations in a variety of different ways to turn that commitment into real action and delivery.

Only last week we launched our online Pledge Forum for all those organisations who have signed up so that they can share good practice and learn from one another's activities.

The Strategy consists of 10 strategic goals. I'm not intending to take you through them all today because I'm hoping that at least some of you will have read the document!

There are a number of issues involved including:

As I've said and as you all know, clearly it's the employers and those who create risk who are responsible for managing that risk. It is equally clear that employees, whilst having a right to protection, also have a duty to care for themselves and for others - and that's explicit in the Strategy.

HSE and our Local Authority Partners are here to provide strategic direction and lead the system. But it's also important for people to understand and accept that other third party organisations are also there to help provide support, guidance and insight - to help drive the improvement we want to see.

Now I want to turn to the role of you - the Insurance Industry - in relation to our Strategy.

The Health and Safety Strategy for Great Britain stresses that other key players in the health and safety system have to play their proper and full part. And a number of reviews, the most recent by the Risk and Regulation Advisory Council (RRAC), have identified the insurance industry as a key "risk actor" - and by risk actor, what they mean is organisations that are highly influential, for good or for ill, on the effective and efficient operation of the health and safety regulatory system.

In its 'Health and Safety in small organisations' report, the Risk and Regulation Advisory Council saw the influence of key risk actors as being key to:

Among its sixteen recommendations to Government, the Risk and Regulation Advisory Council has asked HSE to take the lead fully on 9 of them (and lead on another one, in part), including to follow up those relating to the Insurance Industry - as a key actor in this process. We've readily accepted that this has a good fit with the new Strategy's delivery priorities on sensible risk and SMEs - and we have readily accepted this leadership challenge.

Some of you may already be aware that HSE is in exploratory discussions with a number of insurance companies, to identify common agendas and actions that can be put forward for concerted cross-insurance industry action or joint activity with HSE and our Local Authority regulatory partners. So, what are the thoughts we're beginning to explore?

Well, emerging ideas include:

We would also welcome any further ideas and offers of help to develop these further.

Now, I want to pick up on the area of health and well-being, because I know that long-term health issues are a particular concern for the insurance industry and some of our ongoing activity in this area may be of interest to you.

Whilst there are some similarities in dealing with workplace health issues and safety issues there are also some important differences. Our goals in creating better workplaces for everyone are therefore:

We have made it clear in the Strategy that we need to ensure that organisations focus on work related health matters as well as safety. Every organisation will, as you well know, have its own risk profile which is the starting point for determining which groups of workers are most at risk, and what the nature of the hazards are in that organisation. It is quite clear that in some organisation the risks will be tangible and immediate safety hazards, whereas in other organisations the risks may be more health-related and may be longer term but are certainly no less important because of that.

We in HSE already offer advice and guidance on numerous specific topics related to workplace health.

This year has seen us involved in high profile campaigning work on asbestos, but we also provide guidance on managing stress in the workplace, on dealing with risks which cause Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs), on workplace noise which leads to hearing loss, on exposure to dusts which can lead to Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). The list of potential workplace health risks is a long one. But here, just as with safety, is where we need to be clear about the role of the regulator and the roles of others.

It is for every organisation to identify the nature of the health risks which exist in that organisation. In some places, most likely office based environments, the greatest health risk may well be stress, but in others, it will be dust or exposure to some other cause of harm.

Health, just like safety, has to be managed and led by those who create the risk in the first place and I think it is only reasonable that we acknowledge that health can be more difficult to manage than safety. But that's no excuse for anyone not doing it.

The causes of ill health may not be immediately obvious, sometimes they may have their origins in or be exacerbated by factors which occur outside of work. But "because its more difficult" is no excuse for taking no action. There are some very practical things which every organisation can and should be doing on this road to good health.

Perhaps the most obvious - after risk profiling what the hazards in any given workplace might be - is to look at causes of ill health and sickness absence among the workforce. If the workplace is a contributory factor in ill health then its unlikely that only one member of the workforce will be suffering - telltale patterns of incidences of ill health which could have a workplace connection provide useful pointers to what needs to be looked at - and managed.

We know that more than 2 million people suffer from illness which is in some way attributed to current or past work. Of the 29.3 million working days lost in a typical year (2008/09), around 24.6 million are estimated to be caused by work related ill health. Quite apart from the direct suffering to individuals and the emotional toll on them and their families and friends, the business case for tackling work related ill health is compelling for companies and for you, their insurers.

This is increased, I believe, in the current challenging financial times, across the public and private sectors. The pressure to do more with fewer resources and fewer people is real and it may increase some of the risks of ill-health - particularly stress. Just as with safety, the best approach to ill health is prevention. And addressing health and safety is a fundamental and integral to a much wider agenda aimed at protecting people from harm. That way we deliver benefit not just to individuals but to society as a whole.

We have to 'raise our game' on health but we must make it relevant to the wide variety of workplaces which exist.

I promised to give you some examples of the projects HSE are looking at.

One HSE sponsored project should be of particular interest to the insurance industry and that is the internationally peer-reviewed research being done by Dr Lesley Rushton at Imperial College London on the  burden in Great Britain of work-related cancer.

So far, work undertaken on the current burden arising from past work exposures - most cancers having a latency measured in decades - has already drawn attention to some important issues - such as the estimated 500 or so cases of lung cancers per year that can be attributed to earlier exposure to breathable crystalline silica. Doctor Rushton is studying occupations and workplace agents that have been classified by the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer as either definite or probable carcinogens. One of the more recent things that the International Agency for Research on Cancer identified circadian rhythm disruption as a 'probable' cause of cancer in 2007.

For breast cancer, if the current research confirms evidence suggesting that these cancers can be caused by work disrupting the body clock - that means night work, shift work and other irregular shift patterns - then the estimated number of cases could be as many as 2000 per year. This would place this type of exposure as second only to asbestos in importance as a workplace cause of cancer. But I stress that this work is yet to be concluded and reach its conclusions.

The next stage of Dr Rushton's work will be estimating the burden of cancer that we can expect in the future from exposures now present in the workplace, and she will be reporting those findings in 2011.

I am very conscious that in the last 25 minutes or so, I have galloped through a great deal. There are many more areas which I could have covered:

But I think it is probably best if I stop there and allow you to raise issues which are of interest and concern to you.

So, thank you for listening. Thank you for inviting me back. I hope I've given you what you were expecting but if not, now is your chance to ask about other things.

Updated 2009-03-12