On behalf of all of my colleagues from the Health and Safety Executive, I would like to welcome you to this event tonight which forms part of the series of events which we are holding to launch our new strategy for Health and Safety in Great Britain in the 21st Century.
Last Thursday saw the press launch of our strategy where we were joined by not only our (then) Secretary of State and Lord McKenzie but also by Brendan Barber and by Sir Stephen Bullock for the Local Government Association. Some of you may also have seen the extensive press coverage on Friday of our invitation to organisations to support the strategy by signing up to the Health and Safety pledge. I am delighted to tell you that as of today – only 5 days into the process – we already have more than 100 organisations signed up. If there are any of you in this room this evening who have not yet signed up then I would urge you to do so.
You are here tonight because you, like we, care about health and Safety in workplaces up and down this country. You share in our mission to prevent death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work. Many of you I know responded to the consultation process on the new strategy and we were overwhelmed by the positive and constructive response we received.
Our collective efforts do already deliver a good performance in health and safety in this country but good isn’t good enough and we need renewed effort to reinvigorate our rate of improvement. More than 200 deaths occur in workplace incidents every year and 130,000 reportable injuries of which ~28,000 are major injuries such as amputations, serious burns or fractures which may result in people being unable to work again. About 4000 deaths occur each year due to past exposure to asbestos and the annual number of work related cancer deaths is estimated to be in excess of 6000.
The recession cannot and must not be an excuse to stop or cut corners on health and safety. We set out to produce a strategy that would be resilient to the many ways in which the environment in which we all operate continues to change. Economic cycles are no exception to that – risks may change with varying economic activity but the commitment to protect workers and the public and to prevent harm is constant and perennial.
Our goals in the final version of the strategy remain largely unchanged and we are clear that we all have important roles to play. HSE and our LA partners take the lead on investigations and securing justice but it is important to recognise that this work is integral to prevention of harm and injury not just in holding people to account for their actions.
Our consultation process has underlined the importance of strong leadership and indeed in a recent survey which we carried out more than 9 out of 10 business leaders acknowledged that strong leadership is essential for effective health and safety management. Now we need 9 out of 10 business leaders to actually get out of their boardrooms and demonstrate leadership by example! This is not only about walking the talk but also about demonstrating a common sense and proportionate approach to tackling the real health and safety problems not focusing on trivia and bureaucracy.
Our strategy now recognises that building competence applies to everyone in the system – not just to those who are regarded as health and safety professionals or experts but to directors, line managers and the workforce more generally. Good progress is already being made in this area in dialogue with other key bodies and we look forward to taking this forward.
We have also already started to think about ways in which we in HSE can promote greater workforce involvement throughout unionised and non-unionised workplaces.
Prioritising the key areas on which to focus is an activity which we will be encouraging all dutyholders to take up. It is clear that for some organisations there will be greater emphasis on health issues and in others it will be on those activities which cause injury and even death.
Our commitment to find new ways to help SMEs achieve compliance has been widely welcomed. We were particularly pleased to be able to announce last week that over £1 million worth of our current paid for publications will be made freely available via our website. We were asked by many people to look at this and we see it as a very important move which will help SMEs, safety reps and many others to gain free access to HSE guidance and advice.
HSE’s remit is wide and covers virtually all workplaces in Great Britain from SMEs to large and highly specialised industries. There is no doubt that the strategic economic importance of some of these sectors will continue to require us to work with those industries to reduce the potential for low frequency, high impact events. The developments taking place in our Nuclear Installations Inspectorate to ensure effective regulatory oversight of the proposed new nuclear build as well as existing nuclear installations is a good example of our evolutionary approach. It also typifies the need for us to see our role and that of Health and Safety in the broader context. That broader context also needs to take due account of the important role of the EU in influencing the regulatory agenda alongside other business regulation and the multifaceted role that Local Authorities have to play.
You have given your strong support to this strategy and a number of you have now taken the next steps in signing up to the pledge and in some cases even producing your own delivery plans which support the delivery of the strategy. HSE’s own business plan for 2009/10 makes clear how we will be adapting our approaches to deliver on the strategy. I know that many of you are waiting to see how we will measure progress and we are already looking at this. But let’s be very clear that the measures we choose will measure our collective progress not just that of HSE because this is a strategy for the system as a whole. Thank you for your support, your commitment and for joining us here tonight. This is not the end of a process but the end of the beginning of a new journey. We’re agreed on where we want to get to – the mission – and we’re agreed on the direction to get there – the strategy – now we start the difficult part – the delivery – but we start it together – all of us are part of the solution.