Thank you, Secretary of State, for joining us this morning and showing your support for the new strategy and also to Lord McKenzie, our minister, who is also here demonstrating his ongoing deep and personal commitment to health and safety. We also have some important partners here with us today – who share our desire to make Great Britain’s workplaces safer and to improve the health of our workforces – Brendan Barber from the TUC and Sir Stephen Bullock representing not only Local Authorities as our co-regulatory partners but also as major employers throughout Great Britain. Thank you all for joining us today.
When HSE launched the draft of the new strategy for consultation in December last year we told our stakeholders that we needed their help and support to make the goals a reality. From the extensive consultation process which took place thereafter, involving seven events in 3 countries, over a 12 week period, attended by more than 700 delegates and followed up by hundreds of written responses, we now know for sure that we have that support and that we have a strategy which sets the right direction and right tone for taking health and safety in Great Britain forward. But we are also all agreed that today marks the end of the beginning, because having an agreed strategy now enables the real work to start to turn this into real performance improvement, saving lives and suffering and delivering real business benefit.
Overall, we already do a good job in health and safety performance in Great Britain, but good isn’t good enough. In human terms - four people every week set out for work and never come home again because they have been killed in incidents at work. Around 400 people suffer injuries requiring 3 or more days off work in workplaces up and down this country every day and every year several thousand people die prematurely because of harm that has been done to their health in workplaces. If the human cost is not persuasive to you on its own (and it should be) add to that the business cost – last year 28 million days lost to work related ill health and 6 million days to workplace injury – at an estimated cost of £20 billion. The challenge is very clear and the prize for succeeding in our mission is immeasurable.
But the size of the prize also makes it clear why a recession is no excuse for not doing the right thing in health and safety terms and doing it now. The most productive and profitable workplaces are those which are healthy and safe. The temptation to cut back on health and safety when money is tight is real as we have seen from the results of our survey. But cutbacks will hit businesses’ bottom lines sooner or later – either in incidents now, or in valued workers leaving when the times are getting better or because poorly maintained equipment lets you down just when your business is picking up.
We are delighted that a number of key stakeholders here today have signed up to the pledge to commit to health and safety irrespective of the economic climate. We urge as many of you as possible to sign up and join us being part of the solution.
The new strategy emphasises the importance of realism and common sense – there are no simple solutions or magic bullets. What works well in large organisations will not be an appropriate approach to take in the very many small businesses which are such an important part of our economy. We know that Health and Safety is important to those 4.5 million businesses who employ less than 50 people – a serious incident or injury can cripple their operation and threaten its very survival – but getting hold of the right advice and understanding what health and safety means for them in practical terms is also a challenge. We have said that we want to help SMEs and I am delighted to tell you today that we will be making over £1 million worth of our current paid for publications freely available via our website. Many people have asked us to look at this, and we have – we regard it as an important and immediate demonstration of our commitment to provide real help to small businesses. We now want to work with SMEs to identify other ways in which we can help and support them to improve in health and safety.
Whatever the size of the organisation you are part of, there is no doubt that the key to making health and safety at work a reality and part of the culture is leadership. Leadership has to be visible, consistent and genuine for it to stick and be credible. Not delegated and left to others or imposed by rules and procedures manuals but by winning hearts and minds and uniting around a common cause which is good for every employee and good for the business. Nine out of ten business leaders say they believe leadership is crucially important for delivering improved health and safety – now we need nine out of ten business leaders to do it!
HSE have already said that we cannot deliver this strategy alone - we are greatly encouraged by the support we have had for the strategy – but this is Great Britain’s strategy not HSE’s. We all have important roles to play and we can help and support one another. We will not make the world a safer place by wrapping everyone in cotton wool and avoiding all risk – we will do it by being exemplars of a common sense, proportionate approach to risk management, by giving people confidence to exercise judgment and ensuring that advice and guidance is competent and fit for purpose.
I believe the majority of employers are convinced by the case for good health and safety. But we in HSE also recognise the importance of enforcement and securing justice in cases where people choose to ignore or flout their duties and responsibilities. Our approach to individual organisations will depend upon their approach to health and safety! Yet more evidence of common sense and proportionality!
Thank you for supporting our strategy. Sign up to the pledge and be part of the solution! Our renewed commitment to preventing death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work activities starts today!!