First of all, let me say that I am very pleased to have been invited to Manchester to speak to you today. I have chosen to talk to you about our new Health and Safety Strategy.
I was appointed Chair of the Health and Safety Commission just over a year ago - on 1st October 2007. Since then the Health and Safety Executive and the Commission have merged to become the new Health and Safety Executive. Some of you may also be aware that I served almost 4 years as a Commissioner from 2001 - 2005. When I returned to HSE just over a year ago, I was particularly struck by the progress which had been made in developing real partnership working between LAs and HSE.
This important and modernising change to the Governance structure of HSE typifies the challenge and the balancing act we must undertake in Health and Safety in the 21st Century - we must hold on to those things which are good, effective and still relevant whilst, at the same time, adapting and changing as the world in which we operate changes and calls upon us to address new risks.
Before the advent of HSWA back in 1974
And with remarkable year on year consistency Great Britain’s Health and Safety Performance had plateaued back then at a point where ~1000 people were being killed at work every year.
It’s important to recognise the huge turning point which occurred in 1974 with the Robens Report which resulted in the Health and Safety at Work etc Act, established the Health and Safety Commission and Executive, and introduced a common framework enforced by both LAs and HSE.
Compared to many other pieces of legislation which have been enacted before and since HSWA, the Act is quite remarkable in its resilience.
The key principles of the Act required that we all:
and replace that with a broader and more generic goal setting approach based on the overriding principle that “Those who create the risk are best placed to manage it”.
The approach and the Act is as relevant today as it was 30 years ago.
And the evidence is there for us all to see that this approach has worked. Since the introduction of the Act, safety performance has improved by more than 70%. It is hardly a cause for celebration that > 200 people continue to die at work every year but we should also remember
The fact that our performance has plateaued again, albeit at a much lower level than before tells us something - we don’t have to change a fine piece of legislation which has served us well and delivered such a huge benefit, but we do need to look at what has changed and then make necessary adjustments to our strategy to deal with those changes.
The world of work has changed - in many cases almost beyond recognition. Many of the business and work activities which existed in the 1970s continue to operate but there are also many new risks and new enterprises.
The significance of the LA enforced sector to the economy has risen enormously. LAs now enforce in approximately half of all the workplaces in GB and cover around half the working population. The importance of rates of injury and ill health in this sector is increasingly obvious. The importance of addressing health and safety issues in offices, shops and banks is clearer every day. Slips and trips, manual handling and stress are major problems in all these workplaces. We are all aware of the high levels of stress associated with the banking sector!
We must also recognise that public expectation and societal values have changed. There is a much stronger tendency for people to look to others to blame and to call for “something to be done” whenever there is an accident or an incident.
One of the saddest things about where we find ourselves in the 21st Century is that much of that bureaucracy has proliferated in the name of Health and Safety or rather “Elf ’n’ Safety” because we do need to draw a clear distinction between that which is real Health and Safety - stopping people getting killed, injured or made ill by work - and much of the nonsense and jobs worths which shamelessly use health and safety as an excuse.
We have to regain the real Health and Safety brand - and that will not happen if we wait for the media to correct the myths they’ve helped to generate - we have to replace the nonsense with the real story.
It seems that with the passage of time we’ve also become a bit confused about who is responsible for what in relation to health and safety. It is time for us to remind people about the real role we play as regulators and, more importantly, to remind them of their roles and responsibilities as employers and employees.
So, as we embark upon our new strategy for the 21st Century let’s just remind ourselves of the challenges we face.
Our current performance is on a plateau. You heard the details earlier from Lord McKenzie.
There is a great deal still to do. Much more than can be achieved by HSE and LA regulators alone - that is why our strategy is for GB as a whole as well as describing our role within that.
Look behind the headline numbers:
The process of modernisation for the 21st Century builds on the Health and Safety Commission’s 2004 work which recognised the importance of the work of LAs and the need to work in much closer partnership. The move to develop a partnership between HSE and LAs was correct and the progress made over the last four years has been remarkable.
So that puts us in a strong position to launch the new strategy - for workplace health and safety in Great Britain and HSE/LA’s role within it.
The new Board has taken the lead in setting out its thoughts on the strategy. Our strong relationship with Local Authority co-regulators and the links we have been able to establish with LG Regulation (formerly LACORS), the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) and the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland (REHIS) have enabled us to involve LAs as true partners as part of the Project team. Our new strategy has very recently been reviewed and endorsed by the HSE Board, and will be formally launched for consultation on 3rd December.
This consultation process will be different - we are particularly keen to engage in dialogue not only on what HSE/LAs can or should be doing but also to identify the key active roles which we need others to take to deliver the strategy.
The strategy will not be revolutionary but it will set out to optimise the performance of the overall health and safety system. It will clarify the roles of the regulated, the regulator, the workforce and the many others who are part of the system.
It will make clear that our shared mission is the prevention of death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work activities.
We will emphasise the importance of leadership - from the top of every organisation starting with the Boards and individual directors. We will place leadership at the heart of our mission.
There will be a strong focus on a proportionate approach - by dutyholders in being pragmatic and sensible in their approach to risk management, by health and safety professionals in giving competent advice which takes account of the need to encourage a common sense approach.
We will make it clear that worker involvement and consultation is important in every organisation - where trades unions are present and where they are not and in all organisations of all sizes.
Every organisation is different and the risk profile will vary from one organisation to another. To reduce the toll of work-related injury and ill health we need to improve our ability to focus on priorities - whether by industry, by sector or by individual issue. We need every organisation to take ownership of the process to identify its own risk profile.
Small businesses will continue to be a major component of the British economy. We will work with the SME community to help them understand how to comply with health and safety law in a way which is proportionate to the risks of their business and which gives those businesses greater confidence to take decisions for themselves within a goal setting framework.
Together, HSE and LAs will focus on key activities to ensure that dutyholders manage their workplaces to assure health and safety of the workforce and the public where they are affected by work. Those activities will include
We will also clarify the role of Health and Safety in delivering the broader Government agenda with particular reference to other regulation, Better Regulation and education of future generations in understanding risk and the drive for safer communities. We will explore how for the future the work of LAs on health and safety can be better reflected within Local Area Agreements.
The partnership between HSE and LAs is maturing. We are moving from a phase of building trust and learning how to work together to a much more equal relationship that is designed to deliver real health and safety benefit through joined up approaches to problems.
I expect all LAs to play their part, not just the more forward thinking authorities from which many of you have come today. We are implementing the Section 18 Standard. This sets out what we, the Board, expect of our enforcement arms, that is all LAs and HSE’s Field Operation Division (FOD). We expect all to be compliant by 2011. This should not be a challenge as the standard is but a development of the long-standing Section 18 guidance that has applied to LAs for many years. However, working with LG Regulation (formerly LACORS), we will support those authorities that wish to do better. We will monitor achievement to ensure that all LAs are playing their part in delivering a national picture.
So, the strategic aims are set, the consultation process is about to start and we turn our attention to delivery.
In the meantime let me leave you with a vision of what I hope we can achieve:
Ladies and Gentlemen - Thank you for listening. I hope I have given you some food for thought.