Thank you to IOSH for the opportunity to speak at this conference. It is a great pleasure for me to be here in Dublin and speaking to this international audience.
You have asked me to speak to you about recent developments in HSE and to comment on Health and Safety in the current economic climate.
Back in 2008 we changed the governance structure of HSE. The Health and Safety Commission ceased to exist and the former commissioners became the Non-Executive Board of HSE. The governance change was an important step in the evolution of HSE and it has worked well. One of the first actions of the new Board was to develop a revised strategy which was published in June 2009.
Health and Safety in Great Britain in the 21st Century called for everyone who has a stake in the health and safety system to be part of the solution. In particular this means people taking responsibility and leadership to ensure that when managing health and safety risks they focus on the things that really matter, not trivia – that the actions that they take are proportionate to the risks that they are facing and that there is a shift in mindset towards one that prioritises enabling things to happen over creating bureaucratic obstacles that need to be overcome before activities can take place.
The strategy continues to be our road map. What is changing and evolving, however, is how we go about delivering it.
Over the last two years there have been a series of reviews of health and safety legislation and its effectiveness. Following Lord Young’s review entitled Common Sense, Common Safety, the Government then published a report entitled Good Health and Safety, Good for Everyone. This then spawned the review by Professor Ragnar Löfstedt. Subsequently Health and Safety has been the subject of a ministerial Red Tape Challenge process.
From the outset of these various review processes, HSE has taken the view that it is right that we should be asked to explain what we do and why we do it. The reviews provided great opportunities for us to consider how we can adapt and improve what we do, as well as reinforcing our commitment to continue doing what we know we do well and which is effective.
The findings of the various reviews, and in particular Professor Löfstedt review, were that by and large the regulatory system remains fit for purpose. The problems with Great Britain's health and safety system lie in the way that regulation often gets over interpreted and applied. This approach is unsustainable and damaging in a number of ways which are important to us all:
Health and safety, done properly, has been shown to be a positive contributor to the bottom line allowing organisations to be run more productively - to be more enterprising and innovative.
We continue to believe that we have a world class system in the UK - and the statistics continue to support this view. But equally there is still plenty of room for improvement. Only last week we published the latest (2011-12) statistics for Great Britain’s health and safety performance.
We continue to see a steady improvement in the rate of injuries, with the serious injury rate last year down to 444 per 100,000 employees. The rate of fatal injury remained static at 0.6 per 100,000 employees. What is particularly interesting to note however, is that the sectors which continue to be the worst performing are the same- not just in Great Britain year to year but also here in Ireland and elsewhere around the globe. I recently visited New Zealand and Australia and discovered that for them too Agriculture and Construction account for around 50 percent of their total fatalities just as for us.
So, in addition to doing all the things which we are now doing to implement the recommendations of the reviews which have taken place in Great Britain, I believe it is very important for us to be mindful of what others who face similar challenges are doing and be open to learning about what is most effective. None of us has a monopoly on good ideas.
So what in fact, are we now doing in Great Britain?
Regulation is being simplified and also removed where it is outdated or no longer necessary. This process pre-dates the recent reviews, but there is now a fresh impetus which extends beyond the regulations into guidance, codes of practice and our approach to inspection and interventions. Our aim is to make it easier for business to do what is required, but not to change the standards.
If we look in detail at some of the specifics - as examples of HSE's commitment to improving and simplifying the stock of regulation:
You may well have heard that our Fee for Intervention cost recovery scheme launched at the beginning of October.
HSE is very much in favour of making life as straight-forward as we can for those who are doing, or want to do, the right thing. The former can essentially be left alone to get on with running their businesses, the latter are likely to be looking for help and advice on how to comply.
But, we are equally committed to ensuring that those who choose to ignore or avoid their legal obligations are held to account. So, Fee for Intervention underlines our approach to differentiating between on the one hand those who are committed to doing the right thing, and on the other, those who seek to gain commercial advantage by exposing their employees and the public to unacceptable risks.
It is part of Government policy for HSE to extend the scope of its cost recovery. The public purse should not be expected to foot the bill for firms who fail to meet their health and safety obligations. Those who break health and safety laws are liable for recovery of HSE’s related costs, including inspection, investigation and taking enforcement action. The many businesses that comply with their legal obligations have no need to worry unduly about this scheme. They will continue to pay nothing.
All the essential information and detailed guidance for employers and organisations is now available on HSE's website, and we will be working with industry to ensure that the information is shared widely. There is also an appeals process for any who feel they have been treated unfairly within the new scheme.
HSE is due to review how FFI is working after the first twelve months of operation, and review reports will be published on HSE’s website.
This has been a remarkable year in many ways. It has been a very busy one for HSE and many of our stakeholders, with the level of engagement that has been taking place on the changes we are making. But we have also had cause to celebrate.
We have celebrated Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee and over the summer we have witnessed the most magnificent spectacles of the Olympic and Paralympic Games here in London. One of the proudest moments of the Games for me was to see the Construction workers who were involved in the Big Build form a Guard of Honour for the torch at the opening ceremony. What better way could there be to recognise an Olympic Games construction project that was the safest ever? There were no, zero, work related fatalities among a total workforce of 46,000 working on the Olympic Park over the duration of the project and over 80 million man-hours worked.
But the Olympics were also remarkable because of the inspiration they provided to us all – the athletes themselves and also the thousands of volunteers. They showed us what can be achieved when we adopt a "can-do" attitude. I hope that this is a spirit we can continue to foster among the health and safety community. People are beginning to understand that health and safety is too often used as an excuse for preventing things from taking place. Those who wrongly roll out these excuses are now being challenged, of course by HSE and the Mythbusters Challenge Panel, For the most part the cases we deal with have nothing to do with the workplace but we have seen some examples of pretty ridiculous over interpretation of health and safety in workplaces.
The Mythbusters Challenge Panel has proven to be a great success, but it is a great pity that the important work which we all know is involved in health and safety ever gets involved with things like:
Very few of the cases we've seen so far have anything to do with real workplace issues - but there are some. There is an important warning message for all of you involved in workplace health and safety here.
The challenge is to make everyone see that your role is to enable, not to get in the way. We must be focused on real risk and we must be proportionate. Good health and safety is good for business and an enabler for growth in our economy.
So, in summary:
We continue to pursue the goals we outlined in our strategy. We have made clear what the role of the regulator is and that others have important roles to play in the overall health and safety system to 'be part of the solution'.
Those who create risks must take responsibility for the risks they create, acting proportionately and focussing on the things that make a difference. If Britain is to continue to be one of the safest and healthiest places to work in the world, HSE cannot do it alone and we should all share and learn the lessons from the past and encourage each other.
By 2015, if we have all played our part successfully, HSE will have:
This is where we are in Great Britain. Plenty of business as usual - continuing to do what we do well but also finding ways to improve how we perform our role and how we help others to play their part.
I look forward to hearing from others at the conference to see what we can learn and share with one another.