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11th World Conference on Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion, 3rd October 2012 - Wellington, New Zealand

Judith Hackitt CBE FREng, HSE Chair

Engaging the whole system, the regulator cannot do it alone

Good morning - and first of all can I say what an honour it is for me to be invited here to New Zealand to speak at this prestigious conference. I hope that during the next 20 minutes or so I can give you some insights into the health and safety System of Great Britain - covering both how and why the system works.

My personal commitment to health and safety arises from my background of more than 25 years in the major hazards chemicals industry. I have long been a believer that good performance in health and safety can be aided by regulation, but that true excellence only occurs when there is a belief that it is both a moral and a statutory duty to manage risks. In any industry there is a moral imperative to ensure that people go home from work every day safe and unharmed. Every business should "do" health and safety because it is the right way to run a business not because the regulator tells you to.

Great Britain has a tradition of health and safety regulation which goes back over 175 years. Much of that historic regulation was very specific and inconsistent. It was introduced at different times for shops, railways, mines, factories and other sectors as they developed - often after Government had become aware of appalling conditions that workers faced. By the time we reached the 1960s, the UK had many confusing, and often conflicting workplace regulations but with some sectors still not regulated at all.

The big change took place in the 1970s with the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act (HASAWA) and the formation of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). We moved to a non-prescriptive but consistent regulatory framework, which could be applied to practically all workplaces throughout Great Britain.

In the 38 years since HASAWA and the set-up of HSE, the number of people killed at work has fallen by over 80%. The Act itself has proven to be a solid and resilient example of good regulation that can be applied across all sectors - including some of the newer ones which have emerged since the 1970s. However, I want also to recognise up front that it is people on the ground, in businesses who actually deliver health and safety, not the regulator or the regulatory framework. A good framework and a strong independent regulator are necessary but not sufficient.

The UK system has stood the test of time because of the approach which was taken back in the 1970s. Much of the prescriptive rules based industry specific regulation was replaced with some sound common sense principles. We very much believe that non-prescriptive goal based regulation is much more effective that prescriptive rules.

One of the fundamental principles which underpins our approach is explicitly about the role that organisations and employers have. The person who creates the risk in any workplace is best placed to manage that risk. In the vast majority of cases this means that there is a duty placed on the employer to manage the risks associated with their business. This applies to shop owners, farmers, heads of engineering and construction companies. You have a responsibility to identify the actual risks involved in carrying out your business and put measures in place to prevent harm being caused to your employees and to members of the public who may be affected by the work you do.

The legislation also places a clear duty on employees to act in a manner that does not put themselves or their fellow employees in danger. This principle is entirely consistent with the notion of identifying those who can create risk. Safe systems of work are established by the employer but employees, once trained, must also behave responsibly.

It is important to be clear about our role as a regulator. Inspection and enforcement are an important part of what we do at HSE. It is part of our role to hold companies to account and to provide an effective deterrent to others who may be tempted to take similar risks. But our primary role is to prevent death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work activities. Regulation and indeed the regulator cannot achieve this in isolation and so our approach involves many other aspects:

In 2009, the Board of HSE launched a new strategy for the health and safety system of Great Britain. It preserved and restated the principles of the Health and Safety at Work Act but we also identified where there were areas for improvement or corrections to the direction of travel.

In particular, we chose a "strapline" - "Be Part of the Solution" to deliberately highlight the importance of working together and recognising everyone’s roles and responsibilities within the system. We set out to create an environment where expectations of everyone are clear and explicit.

The approach was designed to create the opportunity for those companies who are already doing the right things in driving health and safety performance and creating the right culture to show leadership - within their sector or trade body and up and down their supply chains. The approach also recognises the important role of trades unions, employers’ organisations and other third party groups in creating the right culture, helping to increase levels of confidence and competence.

By being clear about the important contributions that a very wide range of stakeholders in the system can make, it has enabled us as a regulator to focus more of our time and attention on areas where more assistance or intervention is needed - but it also serves as encouragement to others to play their part.

Our strategy made clear that leadership from the top in health and safety is fundamental. Unless the leaders of the business say - and do - the right things and create a culture in their organisation where health and safety is an integral part of doing business well it simply won’t happen. Acting out of fear that you might get caught by the regulator or because the rules say you have to is not sustainable - no-one will buy into it and health and safety will be perceived as a burden on the organisation rather than what it really is - an aid to good business practice and improved productivity and reliability.

Worker engagement has always been an important part of the UK’s approach to health and safety. That remains the case today in spite of the changed landscape with many more smaller businesses and much less collective union membership. Research clearly shows that an engaged workforce leads to:

Employees provide valuable feedback on the effectiveness of health and safety management systems. If they tell you it is too complicated and bureaucratic - it probably is. The workforce are the real eyes and ears on the ground and need to be encouraged to speak up about what is not going well and to offer suggestions as to how it might be made better.

I have spoken to many audiences around the world on this subject since I have been chair of HSE and I am very conscious that there is a need to take account of different cultural issues. Getting people to speak up may be more difficult in some places than others, encouraging joint problem solving with management may also be more challenging. But what I do know is that the principles are right and when they work they work well. Since the launch of HSE’s new strategy in 2009 one of the most successful programmes which we have initiated has been the piloting of joint training in health and safety for safety reps and supervisors - breaking down the "us and them" barriers and getting people to recognise their shared purpose.

The main theme of my speech to you today has been the need to recognise the important role that everyone has to play in delivering good, sustainable health and safety performance. But in making it clear that the regulator cannot do it all, I want to be equally clear that the regulator has to continue to monitor the performance of the overall system and to take steps to reinvigorate and reform the system when and where this is needed. The best systems in the world only stay that way by continuing to adapt and change to meet changing needs and ensure maximum effectiveness - that is as true for the regulator as it is for those of you in business.

In the UK we are now in the process of implementing a number of changes and reforms to our system - but the 2009 strategy - the guiding principles, remain the same. We refer to the strategy as our roadmap - the reforms and fine-tuning is taking place in how we deliver the goals identified in the strategy.

We are working hard to deliver guidance which is much more accessible to the growing number of small businesses. We have seen that health and safety legislation can be over interpreted and wrongly applied - especially in small low risk businesses.

Last year we produced new guidance called "Health and safety made Simple" to enable small businesses to understand what they have to do and to avoid them being drawn into taking measures which are much more applicable to larger, higher risk businesses. We have recently made available an accompanying online toolbox which provides the means for them to actually do what is required in a simple and proportionate way. Our firm belief is that by making it simpler to understand we will encourage employers to do what they should be doing and increase levels of compliance.

We are also carrying out a review of legislation. Whilst the health and safety at work act remains the overarching framework for our regulatory system there have been other regulations implemented over the last 30-40 years - some have originated domestically, others from the Europe. We are now taking time to ensure that the whole system is easy to navigate by removing out of date and duplicate legislation.

We are also overhauling our whole suite of guidance and codes of practice - to ensure that it remains relevant and also to ensure that it is written in current language and terminology. We are taking care to ensure that our guidance remains at the right level and encouraging others to play their part by producing sector specific guidance with our support.

A world-class health and safety system is all about getting the balance right:

The UK's performance in health and safety continues to make steady improvements in fatalities, injuries and work related illness. But we still have a long way to go and many opportunities to improve. We must continue to enable businesses to grow and innovate but at the same time be identifying and managing the risks. We welcome every opportunity to share our knowledge and our practices with others - what we do well and those areas which we continue to find difficult. We also want to learn from others, which is why we value the opportunity to engage in international conferences like this. We must never forget that behind the title of "health and safety" lies the reality of people suffering harm and often untimely death as a result of their work - the lessons to be learned are too important for us all to learn for ourselves the hard way - we have a moral obligation to share our knowledge and save lives.

Updated 2012-10-18