Thank you for the invitation to be here today. This is one of 9 events which will take place up and down the country during November and December, and each one of these events will be attended by a member of the HSE Board. This, in itself, is a strong indication of the importance which the board of HSE attaches to strong and effective partnership working between HSE officials and Local Authority regulators.
There is no doubt that the partnership has made great progress in recent years. The very fact that Local Authorities as regulators were involved in the development of the new HSE strategy from the outset is a sign of how that partnership has evolved and matured over time.
What I want to do today is to speak about the Strategy and more importantly about the process of making it happen – the delivery. There are numerous ways in which we need to work with Local Authorities on delivery of the strategy covering their role as employers – often the largest employer in some localities and as commissioners of many services from outsourced third parties – often in high-risk industries including waste and recycling. But today I want to focus on your role as regulators and partners with HSE. I want to explore the clear responsibilities we have as regulators which we’ve laid out in the strategy.
It almost goes without saying that we, jointly, lead the system as a whole – but it is a system which relies upon the actions of many others in addition to ourselves, and the strategy describes the roles which everyone has to play.
More specifically our role involves:
In many ways the role of Local Authority inspectors is more difficult than that of HSE’s own front line inspectors. HSE may interact with the higher risk businesses in, for example, construction, major hazards and larger businesses, but your own Local Authority inspector role has to combine regulating health and safety with other risks such as environment and food safety. The nature of the regulation which you are working with may differ considerably – health and safety law has, and always will be, non-prescriptive and goal-setting – requiring the duty holder themselves to assess risk and decide what are reasonable and practical steps which they can take to manage risks.
Other regulatory regimes may be more prescriptive and it is certainly the case that expectations of the level of risk which is tolerable in any given business will vary depending upon whether the consequences of failure to manage risk result in injury to employees, damage to the environment or a public health concern such as food poisoning. Not only does this multifaceted role create challenges in terms of different approaches to regulation but also in terms of how you, and the dutyholders you regulate, will see the profile of risks in their businesses.
At this point, I want to consider for a few moments the particular profile of the region in which you operate.
The Greater London region is made up of 33 unitary authorities. Whilst it is the smallest in size of the English regions it is the largest in terms of population with over 7.5 million inhabitants. It is also a very diverse region – with Inner London having a per capita GDP over 3 times the UK average (in spite of the recession) but also containing some of the most deprived areas within the UK. Almost 30 % of the population belong to ethnic minority groups making this one of the most diverse and culturally rich cities in the world. There are a multitude of languages spoken and approximately 50 ethnic minority community groups of over 10,000 people.
You are also the region which will host the 2012 Olympics – not only a massive challenge for health and safety during the construction phase, which is well underway, but also during the preparation and staging of the Games themselves.
So this provides the background against which I now want to talk about the Strategy for health and safety in Great Britain and the crucial role that you as local authority regulators can play in working with us as co-regulator partners to turn the strategy into a reality.
The new Board of HSE decided in 2008 that it was time to update and reset the direction for health and safety. We were clear that the system was far from being broken. Although our performance in health and safety in Great Britain is world leading, this still isn’t good enough and this fact, coupled with the huge changes going on around us, drove the need for a new strategy. HSE was responding to, amongst other things:
After working together with LACORs to produce the draft strategy, followed by extensive public consultation, the final version of the new strategy was launched in June of this year. I have already outlined to you the role of HSE and LA co-regulators which the Strategy makes very clear. The Strategy also outlines that it is not our role to manage health and safety in workplaces. That responsibility lies clearly with those who create, and thus own, the risk - the owners, directors, senior managers in organisations.
The new strategy gives us all a simple, unifying and collective purpose – the prevention of death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work activities. We have very deliberately positioned the Strategy as being about how everyone has important contributions to make – the sub-title of the Strategy is “Be part of the Solution”. At the time of the launch we invited organisations to sign up to pledge to work with us. To our great pleasure and surprise over 1000 organisations took us at our word and have already signed up to the pledge. Around half of those who have signed up are organisations who are Local Authority-enforced and we will need to work closely with LG Regulation (formerly LACORS) to ensure that we have an effective and consistent means of engagement with “pledges” which builds upon their voluntary sign up and encourages them to make targeted and relevant delivery in their particular organisation.
It is worth saying that the economic climate has changed dramatically since we first embarked upon the new Strategy, but this clearly has not stood in the way of people signing up to work with us to create healthier and safer workplaces in Great Britain.
So given that we have secured substantial commitment to work with us as part of the solution, let’s take a look at some of the things we are expecting others to deliver on:
First and foremost, we need leadership – from the top of every organisation, whatever its size and whether it is in the public, private or not for profit sector. Leadership by Boards and senior managers is not achieved by edicts from the office but by people who walk the talk constantly, consistently and visibly. That’s what inspires others to take on their roles and responsibilities when they see that those at the top really mean it.
The Strategy recognises that the building of competence applies to everyone in the system, not just health and safety professionals. We need directors and managers who lead the organisation, who are confident and competent to exercise judgement and common sense – focusing on those things that really matter, not trivia and bureaucracy for the sake of it.
In small organisations, in particular, there is a need for good, reliable advice and guidance from professionals. But this advice must also be fit for purpose – managers and those with responsibility in an organisation need to be coached to enable them to make decisions, not given tomes of procedures which gather dust on the shelves. Competence needs to be measured in sensible and proportionate application of measures to address real risks, not in knowledge and qualifications gained. HSE is facilitating the process of developing competency models with some of the key professional organisations including IOSH and CIEH.
The Health and Safety at Work Act has always recognised the fundamental importance of worker involvement. However, in the 35 years since the Act, the nature of workforces has changed to such an extent that we need to ensure that all workforces are properly and truly involved – whether they are unionised or non-unionised and irrespective of the size of the business, and whether the workforce is directly or indirectly employed by the duty-holder.
This is not about having safety committees in place. Real involvement means asking the workforce what concerns them and acting upon their concerns – often finding that not only are they aware of the problem but they also have very practical and common sense solutions to offer.
We have also 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 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 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.
Our Strategy acknowledges the need to customise support and advice to meet the needs of SMEs. The growing number of SMEs in the UK are an important part of our economy and many of them are relatively low risk – but by no means all of them. We have to make it easier for them to do what is required by helping them to understand what the requirements are. This certainly does not mean a prescriptive checklist approach – what it does mean is ensuring that paperwork is kept to a minimum whilst upholding appropriate and reasonable standards or protection.
The Strategy also recognises that at the other end of the scale – and not normally the territory of Local Authority regulators – there is a need to ensure that those specialised high hazard industries, which have the potential to cause high impact major catastrophes, are properly managed.
The final goal of the Strategy is all about placing health and safety in the broader context, because as you are only too aware none of the businesses you regulate see health and safety regulation and issues in a vacuum. It is, and should be, an integral part of managing the business in the context of all legal – and moral – requirements. This means ensuring that we strike the balance of ensuring that regulation does what it is meant to do in protecting people, but does not stop business from doing what it is there to do in providing employment and generating real economic benefit. By taking this proportionate and common sense approach we will regain the value of the brand of what real health and safety is all about.
So now we come to the point where we look at what we as regulators need to do to deliver on our part of the strategy:
One action we have already taken which has been very well received is the decision to make HSE’s advice and guidance freely available to all via the web – it’s a clear demonstration of our commitment to help people – SMEs, and managers and health and safety professionals in all organisations 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 I am firmly of the view that we should make no apology for the use of enforcement measures to secure compliance from those who seek to avoid and overlook their responsibilities. This is part of us demonstrating our leadership – ensuring that lessons are learned as well as holding people to account for their actions Good leaders are those who support those who want to do the right thing but take firm action against those who choose not to or fail to do so.
Let us remind ourselves that we are building on our strengths in this strategy and we have many strengths. We – HSE and our co-regulators in Local Authorities – are regarded as good and fair regulators, who also offer sound advice and help to businesses. We want to retain that reputation. But in a world that is constantly changing we will not do that simply by standing still. We need to adapt and modify our practices to meet the changing needs of business, and society more broadly. Remember this is evolution not revolution. In the information age we now live in we need to ensure even greater consistency of approach between HSE and Local Authority regulators, and between Local Authority regulators up and down the country.
Better regulation is not just about what the law says but also about consistency of application – especially to large multi-location organisations. If we want them to be part of the solution with us, we need to ensure that we demonstrate our willingness to work with them to address some of their needs.
We have already achieved a good deal in creating that consistency of approach with an agreed standard now setting out how a health and safety service should operate among co- regulators.
In all respects we work best when we all use our resources wisely and efficiently; making the most of our respective strengths and expertise, and ensuring that time and resources are allocated according to risk. That’s what the Strategy tries to do – to reset and refine the direction of travel, making the most of who we are and what we do.
I will never cease to be proud of what we do because preventing death injury and ill health to people at work and those affected by work activities is a cause and a purpose to be justifiably proud of. I am sure you feel the same and together we will ensure we now deliver the Strategy.