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Speech to National Food and Drink Manufacturing Conference 2011, Health and Safety: Getting the mixture right, 4 October 2011, Nottingham

Judith Hackitt CBE, HSE Chair

The future of HSE and health and safety against a backdrop of current changes and challenges

Good morning and thank you to the organisers for inviting me to speak at the start of your conference. It is a particular pleasure to get the opportunity to speak to you today because it gives me the chance to keep the promise I made three years ago to attend and address this event after I had to pull out at short notice. On that occasion another HSE board member, David Gartside, was able to step in and I thank you for the warm welcome you gave him then just like you have me today.

When David spoke to you in November 2008, I know he used much of the time to explain how the board of HSE was on the eve of publishing its new strategy: Health and Safety for Great Britain in the 21st Century. This heralded a six month period of public consultation so that in June 2009 we were in a position to launch the final strategy formally with the strap-line calling on everyone in the health and safety system to be: ‘Part of the Solution’.

As I’m sure you will all appreciate, a great deal has happened since then which has changed the environment we find ourselves operating in. But, when tackling the subject of my speech today I will continually refer back to that strategy. Changes in the world of health and safety have been triggered by the comprehensive spending review; the Lord Young review which culminated in the publication of Common Sense; Common Safety; and the more recent Ministerial announcement: Good Health and Safety: Good for Everyone, which included the announcement of the independent review of Health and Safety legislation by Professor Ragnar Löfstedt.

You might initially find it surprising, that in the light of all these changes, the strategy remains such a core document for us. However, as I go on - and in particular, as I begin to focus specifically on the food and drink manufacturing sector - I think you’ll see why its principles stay so important and should remain the guide for all those in the health and safety system, not just HSE, for achieving the core mission, which continues to be front and centre of what we all do: The prevention of death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work activities.

But before I go on to talk about how your sector might need to adapt in this climate, it has become customary for me to take the opportunity when I speak on this theme to set out precisely what the wider changes are, to explain their likely impact and to provide an update on progress. I think it’s vital that I do this so that everyone involved in the system are all equally up to speed with and informed about what’s happening so that they can have more confidence in the decisions that they make about the future.

At the time of the publication of Lord Young’s report, Common Sense; Common Safety almost a year ago we launched the first of our simple to use online risk assessments for low risk businesses that covered offices. We subsequently launched further guides covering classrooms and shops and these have all been well received.

Use of the risk assessment tool requires people to consider whether or not their work environment is low risk or not. Higher risk premises can still use the simplified risk assessment tool as a first step and the tool will also prompt them to give further, more detailed, consideration to any specific higher risks which they identify during the process.

If businesses decide that they do not have all of the expertise they need to assess and manage the risks they identify in their business, they may decide to seek expert advice. We have worked hard with others, including IOSH, to develop the Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register and since its launch in March this year the number of those registered, which I’m sure includes many of you in the audience, stands at over 2,500. HSE is very grateful to the many professional bodies that have helped to deliver this initiative. It’s also an important step which is entirely consistent with the strategy.

Producing guidance has also always been a key part of HSE’s role. We have a strong reputation, not only in the UK but worldwide for producing guidance that is straight forward and clear. However, the current climate makes it even more important for us all to focus on real risks and proportionate action, not overdoing things for little or no benefit. Since the launch of Common Sense; Common Safety we have produced Health and Safety Made Simple. You will be seeing more of this easier to read, easier to navigate kind of approach in HSE guidance in future. We are taking forward a substantial piece of work at the moment to review all of our guidance to ensure it all offers a practical, proportionate approach for organisations to help them comply with health and safety law. I do want to be very clear though that making guidance simple and easier to navigate is just that - it is not about lowering standards and reducing levels of protection.  I continue to believe that guidance is an area where companies, trade associations, public sector bodies, Trades Unions and others can come together, wherever it’s appropriate to produce industry or sector specific guidance that follows these same principles of proportionality and practicality and might be better written in language that meets their organisations’ needs. I know your sector has shown a commitment over many years to doing this and I’ll return to this point later in my speech.

Following public consultation of the recommendation to extend the period for reporting of RIDDOR incidents from three to seven days, the HSE board has recommended to the Minister the change to the threshold as proposed in addition to an extension in the deadline for reporting injuries that fall into the criteria to 15 days from the current 10. It will still be necessary for organisations to keep their own record of all over 3 day incidents because this provides important information for companies to use internally to monitor health and safety performance - again a principle that sits comfortably with our strategy. But at the same time we are making life simpler for business by aligning RIDDOR reporting requirements to HSE with those for formal sickness absence reporting at 7 days. The minister has agreed the recommendation and once the amendment has been made HSE has committed to monitoring its effect to assess how it works in practice.

So, having talked about how we are implementing the recommendations contained in Common Sense; Common Safety that fall to us to deliver and the progress we’ve made, now let me turn to some other things that are impacting on the health and safety system.

I now want to concentrate on the key elements in Good Health and Safety Good for Everyone which relate to how HSE will be changing its approach in the light of the Comprehensive Spending review.

As was announced at the time of the publication of the CSR and has been widely reported, especially in the health and safety press, we will see a net funding reduction in our Government funding over the next four years. But much of HSE’s work in the major hazards area is already fully cost recovered and represents approximately one third of HSE’s total budget. Although we will be looking at ways to further modernise and streamline our ways of working across the whole of HSE, the funding reduction of 35 per cent applies most significantly to those areas where we historically have not cost recovered and that includes most of the food and drink manufacturing sector.

A significant proportion of the reduction we need to achieve in our budget has and will continue to be met through efficiency gains in ways of working, back office services and estates, in order to maintain front-line activities, but there will be some impact on our proactive frontline activities.

I want to make it absolutely clear that our reactive work in response to incidents and complaints received will not change at all. Reactive work - including taking enforcement action wherever it’s warrante - will continue unaffected, based on our well established incident selection criteria and complaints system. It is vital that we continue to respond to incidents and concerns when they are notified to us or where we identify particular risks.

But, the size of the savings we need to make are such that inevitably there will be some impact on our frontline activities. We intend to take an even more focussed approach to proactive work, devoting a greater proportion of our effort on those activities where risks are highest and where we can have the greatest impact. We will use evidence and intelligence to identify high risk hot-spots in generally lower risk sectors and we will maintain effective engagement with those sectors where we stimulate and assist sector-led improvements through engagement and partnership, rather than inspection.

Much of this of course is not new and our work with your sector is an excellent example of this but again more on that later.

I now want to touch briefly on the topic of Fee for Intervention and HSE’s proposals to implement this, as well as referring to the independent reviews of health and safety Legislation that are currently on-going.

We are currently consulting on a proposal to recover our costs from those who are found not to be managing effectively the risks that they create. The intention is that material non-compliance with the law which is identified during an inspection should incur a charge for the work that HSE has to do to ensure action is taken to address the material fault. We believe that this approach is fair and equitable. The vast majority of businesses who already do the right thing will not be impacted by this in any way but those who take short cuts and avoid taking action until we intervene, will incur a fee. This is a way of both recognising those who do the right things whilst at the same time HSE getting tougher with those non-compliant businesses - those who in your terminology cut corners.

The public consultation process started in July and will close on 14th October. Depending on the comments the consultation attracts we anticipate a pilot period to start later this month to test the process in practice. If everything goes according to plan by April 2012 we expect to be in a position to formally introduce the regime.

Good Health and Safety, Good for Everyone, also announced the Government’s decision to set up an independent review of health and safety legislation. This is being carried out by a panel of independent advisors, chaired by Professor Ragnar Löfstedt.

The review is considering the opportunities for reducing health and safety legislation. It is focused specifically on statutory instruments - about 200 exist - that HSE and our LA partners enforce rather than on the HSWA itself. It is expected that the report will be completed and published later this autumn. In parallel to this the government is also carrying out what is being called the ‘Red Tape Challenge’. This is a broader government initiative designed to give the public and businesses an opportunity to provide their views on all regulations. Health and Safety’s major turn in the spotlight was in the summer. Over 1,200 comments were received but given the cross-cutting nature of health and safety, we should expect further comments throughout the challenge initiative. As well as informing the review being carried out by Professor Löfstedt, the comments will also feed into specific proposals for regulatory reform that will be reviewed by a Ministerial ‘Star Chamber’ of key departments later. HSE welcomes the opportunities which such independent reviews provide for an objective assessment of how we are currently delivering and to hear views on what may need to change. It is a means to ensure that regulation which has evolved over many years continues to be relevant, common sense, proportionate to the risk and easy to navigate.

So having talked broadly about the challenges as well as the opportunities the whole health and safety system is faced with I now want to turn my focus to your sector.

As I said in my introduction when we published our strategy: health and safety in the 21st Century its supporting strap line was an invitation to everyone who is part of the safety system to be: "part of the solution". In doing so we were recognising that if we were to improve our health and safety performance further and achieve the mission I spoke about earlier we needed everyone in all parts of the system to come together to lead the way and share good practice with one another.

But I know this principle and the advantages it offers isn’t news to your sector. You already have a strong history of doing this since the formation of the Recipe for Safety Initiative in 1990. And the last 20 years demonstrate the success that can be had with an approach that brings individual companies, cross-sectoral organisations and trade unions together to solve their health and safety problems; you see an improvement in standards, which leads to fewer of your employees being harmed at work and real business benefits. In your case it has translated into a 50 per cent reduction in the overall injury rate in food and drink manufacturing and a 30 per cent cut in major injury rates over the last twelve years alone.

But there is still plenty of room for further improvement. Your sector still accounts for over 5,000 RIDDOR injuries each year of which nearly one fifth fall within the ‘major’ injury category. Putting that figure into context it equates to one quarter of all RIDDOR manufacturing injuries reported to HSE every year. We’ve also observed a plateauing in your performance in recent years, which we have also seen in other industry sectors.

And this doesn’t include occupational health issues either. Our statistics tell us that every year around 19,000 food and drink manufacturing workers suffer from ill health caused or made worse by work with musculoskeletal injuries being the main cause but with stress, asthma and dermatitis also included in the profile. You have the benefit of already having grasped the nettle and you have the extra experience and well established networks that this head start gives you. And if this conference is anything to go by you also have substantial levels of commitment too.

So where do you go from here? How do you move from good to excellent? Firstly, I think as a sector you need to consolidate all the good things you do and make sure that the factors that have driven the improvements in the past have become embedded into the culture of every organisation in your sector. Your sector is very broad and diverse and naturally there are exemplars and laggards within it. It is important that together you seek to work with those who are not up there with the best of you.

Creating a safety culture, in fact changing any culture, has to start at the top and be very visibly and consistently led by actions – not just words. To do this as a collective group of organisations demands even greater levels of leadership. And recognition that the whole sector is only as good as its weakest link and that sharing good practice on health and safety, even with your competitors and your suppliers and customers, makes sense in the long term.

It is also vital that you seek to involve your workforce. They are routinely the source of ideas identifying where progress can be made next. In the same way organisations up and down the supply chain can act as an active conduit by which to share learning and good practice across the sector irrespective of the organisation’s business or its size leading to a collective improvement across the entire sector.

The last area I want to focus specifically on is the issue of occupational ill health. Often pushed to the margins in the pursuit of safety targets, ill health is and will continue to be a major issue and one that cannot be ignored if we are to achieve our mission. Tackling the problem of occupational ill health often requires a proactive, integrated and inclusive approach which can prove too daunting a task for some. That is why I was so pleased to see the example set by the winner of IOSH’s Food and Drink manufacturer award last year. I’m sure you’re all familiar with their innovative solution, which was developed in-house, to cut noise levels in the production area of their bakery. By re-engineering its 31 high-output sandwich cutting machines, they not only got rid of the need for workers to use hearing protection and so eliminating the cost and the health risks associated with their use they also made the sandwich making process more hygienic and efficient - undoubtedly a win-win all round.

You need to apply this same level of thought to the other main sources of ill health in this sector. Whether it be changing processes to reduce upper-limb disorders, introducing systems that cut back injuries, reducing exposure to dust in the atmosphere or, as in the example I’ve just mentioned, engineering machinery so noise levels don’t exceed 85 dB(A - what’s key to their success is that they are integrated into the manufacturing process because it is more effective and efficient in the long term that way rather than just bolting it on at the end.

I think this last point is worth reinforcing as we all have felt and may continue to feel the effect of the pressures brought about by the tough economic conditions of the last couple of years. I have said it in the past and I will continue to say it: good health and safety is a positive contributor to the bottom line of any business so long as it is applied sensibly and proportionately focussing on the things that will really make a difference to health and safety performance.

So, in summary, there is a good deal of change going on in the world of health and safety. We are seeing a change of culture initially by Common Sense; Common Safety and which now continues under Good Health and Safety, Good for Everyone. We are committed to following through on the relevant recommendations for HSE. As I hope I’ve made clear throughout, our strategy does remain our road map, throughout this process. We see no need to change course at the strategic level, but we are committed to reviewing how we do what we do and improving where we can. If anything the current climate only serves to emphasise one of the key messages of the strategy namely; the important role that others have to play in leading health and safety and being part of the solution.

HSE will continue to do what we do, do it well and to the best of our ability. We have a good health and safety system and a record to be proud of in the UK. We must all work hard to keep that record, but the system must evolve in changing times. There remain challenges in every sector, including your own which need to be tackled. If we are to continue to maintain progress we need to move on from the "low hanging fruit" to tackling other real risks which cause har - in terms of injury and impairment to health. This is your industr - you need to identify the priorities and lead the way. We stand ready to support you in taking health and safety forward and we will also continue to take action against those who lag behind.

(Check against delivery).

Updated 2011-11-28