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BSI British standards - Occupational Health and Safety conference

Judith Hackitt CBE, HSE Chair, 9 December 2008

Slide 1

I am very pleased to have this opportunity to speak to you today. I am the envy of many of my colleagues in HSE today – having this opportunity to speak to you in such an auspicious place – hallowed turf to some. Sadly, I have to tell you that my particular sporting passion is Rugby Union, not football – so the surroundings are somewhat lost on me!

Slide 2

You will know from your conference pack that I intend to speak to you today about HSE’s newly launched Strategy for Health and Safety in Great Britain in the 21st Century. We launched this new strategy for consultation last week at events in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff. It is quite different in a number of ways from anything HSE has ever done before. I plan to tell you why we decided to produce the new strategy, what we saw as the key challenges to be addressed, why the strategy is as it is and what it means for you both in terms of your particular organisation’s OH&S strategy and more generally in relation to standards and management systems.

I became Chair of the Health and Safety Commission just over a year ago – on 1st October 2007. Since then – on 1st April 2008 to be precise – the Health and Safety Executive and the Commission merged to become the new Health and Safety Executive of which I am now the Chair.

This important step started us on this challenging journey to bring Health and Safety into the 21st century. Holding 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 all operate changes and calls on us to address new risks.

Slide 3

Prior to the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act (1974) which created HSE and HSC, ~1000 people lost their lives in work related incidents every year. The 1974 Act had an impact, it was a huge turning point for Great Britain’s Health and Safety system.

Prior to the Act:

Slide 4

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".

If I have any quibble at all with the Robens approach it is that not only are those who create the risk "best placed" to manage it, they also have a moral as well as a legal duty to manage the risks that they create. That embellishment aside, the approach that was taken in 1974, the Act which enshrined those principles in law and first brought us a proportionate, targeted, risk-based approach built on consultation and engagement is as relevant today as it was more than 30 years ago.

Slide 5

And the evidence is there for us all to see that this approach has worked. Since the introduction of the Act, safety performance overall has improved by more than 70% partly because of changes in the types of work people do, but also because of the effectiveness of the system.  It is hardly a cause for celebration that > 200 people continue to die as a result of incidents 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 - but it certainly doesn't tell us that we have to change a fine piece of legislation which has served us well and delivered such a huge benefit, measured in lives saved and injuries and illnesses avoided, for more than 30 years.

So when HSE looked back at where we had come from and at what we have we decided to take stock of what has changed and make adjustments to our strategic approach to deal with those changes.

The world of work has changed in many ways. Many of the work activities and businesses which existed in the 1970s continue to operate and indeed thrive today.

Slide 6

We still have Agriculture, Construction, Extractive Industries and my own personal background industry - chemicals. Many of the risks in these industries remain the same as they were back then but equally many things have changed - greater automation, new processes and technologies, more diverse workforces and working practices, changes of ownership, changed governance and operating structures.

And then we move on to the emerging and growing sectors which bring with them new risks to be managed and new challenges. The strength of the 1974 Act is that by setting down non specific, generic but time honoured principles, we can apply those principles today to many more SMEs, to nanotechnology, to a rapidly expanding waste and recycling industry and so on.

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. There is a greater level of concern about the possibility of civil litigation and claims for damages. "Where there's blame, there's a claim" is a reality of the 21st Century and increased bureaucracy is often the response to ‘something must be done'.

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.

You know that the subject we all care about is not about banning conkers, pancake races and the like. I hope you also know that Health and Safety does not stop anyone from doing their job - it actually enables them to do it more safely and efficiently. This ranges from finding better ways to help emergency services to perform risk assessments and anticipate problems before they find themselves in life/death situations so that they can quickly adopt the right measures, to enabling small firms to comply with legislative requirements in a simple and proportionate manner.

We’ve also become confused as time has progressed about who is responsible for what in relation to health and safety. The responsibility for managing health and safety in any organisation rests very clearly with those who create the risks – HSE is not responsible for managing health and safety in your workplace – that is down to you as dutyholders and employers.

Without that recognition of basic responsibility and commitment to do it because it is the right thing to do – there will be no good health and safety system.

HSE provides guidance and advice of what the law requires and takes enforcement action where we find breaches and non compliance. Health and Safety professionals including ourselves provide framework and support but leadership in every organisation is key.

I would also like to address at this point another area of confusion which we sometimes encounter. It usually comes to us in the form of “We in Company X have put in place a fully-integrated health and safety management system which has been fully audited and accredited by organisation Y so what will you in HSE give us in return in recognition of what we’ve done”. I want to be very clear that the rewards for doing health and safety come from within your own organisation through less accidents, greater staff motivation and better business performance – not from the regulator. Our processes of proactive and reactive work are risk based, and so, if your initiative leads to improved performance, then by definition you become a lower risk, leaving us able to focus our attention on higher risk operators – but this is a consequence of performance delivery not because of a statement of good intent.

But back to considering what has changed.

Today we have many more small businesses than we did 30 or even 10 years ago. However turbulent the economic climate may be over the foreseeable future, we can confidently expect that trend of increasing proportion of employees being in SMEs to continue into the future.

We know that in the past effective workforce involvement, particularly where it has involved unionised safety representatives, has delivered generally better safety performance. But today, not only are workplaces themselves very different but there are also many more workplaces with non-unionised structures or a mix of unionised and non-unionised workforces – our task is to find new and effective ways to engage current and future workforces.

Many organisations are already fully committed to a properly integrated suite of health and safety arrangements and they know that good health and safety is good business. But in the coming months, the economic climate is going to test that commitment in some places and in others there is a much longer standing scepticism/reluctance to embrace proper health and safety which we must tackle. Exemption from the law or from scrutiny by the regulator is not an option for any organisation – a common sense fully integrated approach is not an option either but an imperative for everyone.

Slide 7

So, as I‘ve said, we launched our new strategy for consultation last week. This is what it looks like.

We always get lots of advice of what HSE needs to do but over the next 3 months of the consultation period we want to start a new type of dialogue. Of course we want people to read the strategy and tell us what they think. But we also want people to reflect on and tell us what they can do to contribute. That’s why we’ve subtitled it “Be part of the solution”. Our hope is that we can very quickly agree that the strategic direction we’ve set is right and move on to discussing how we make it happen. That will be the focus of the 7 workshops we will hold up and down the country during January.

Slide 8

Our mission is the prevention of death, injury and ill health and those at work and those affected by work activities. There is a role for everyone of us to play but as I’ve said, clarity about our respective roles and responsibilities is fundamental.

Slide 9

The primary responsibility for managing risk rests with those who create the risk in the first place – that means employers, self employed and manufacturers or suppliers of articles or substances for use at work.

Every member of every workforce has a fundamental right to work in an environment where health and safety risks are properly controlled. But they also have a statutory duty to care for their own health and safety and for others who may be affected by their actions.

There is also a wealth of third party organisations, who can play a variety of important roles in driving health and safety improvements. The TUC does a first class job in training safety representatives; employer and trade organisations provide tailored advice and guidance to their members; investors and underwriters can have a strong influence on an organisation’s appetite for and approach to risk; health and safety professionals can help businesses to become more confident in taking a common sense proportionate approach.

Standards provide a very important framework which translates legal requirements into thorough and logical management systems. One of their greatest strengths lies in underpinning that all important definition of roles and responsibilities in every workplace.

The role of HSE and our Local Authority partners is to provide strategic direction and lead the health and safety system as a whole. When I talk about the health and safety system, let’s be clear that I am referring to the full suite of arrangements not individual management systems. In addition to inspection, investigation and enforcement, we conduct research, propose new regulation where and when needed, alert dutyholders to new and emerging risks and provide information and advice.

Slide 10

Our first goal in the strategy therefore is to continue our commitment to investigation of work related incidents and ill health and to take enforcement action to secure justice.

We know that this activity will continue to take up considerable resources within HSE and local authorities – but it is an important part of our role. Investigation, and ultimately prosecution, not only secures justice but is also vital if we are to learn from events and share the knowledge to prevent recurrence in similar circumstances.

Part of preventing death, injury and ill health is about providing an effective deterrent for those who put others at risk or deliberately flout the law.

Our approach to enforcement has three key objectives – compelling dutyholders to take immediate action to deal with risk, promoting sustained compliance with the law and holding people to account for their actions.

We make no apology for taking a strong stance on enforcement but this has to be balanced with the considerable time and resource we also devote to advice and guidance.

Slide 11

Our second and third goals are linked. We want to encourage strong leadership based on a common sense, proportionate approach.

Leadership means accountability and visible ownership. Real health and safety leaders win hearts and minds of all their colleagues – directors, managers, workers and contractors. They shape the organisations’ ethos on health and safety – including on what it is and what it isn’t.

Slide 12

Linked to that, we also want to help managers to distinguish between what are real health and safety issues and what is unimportant or trivial.

Slide 13

Our next goal is to increase competence in health and safety to enable greater ownership, confidence and promotion of sensible and proportionate risk management.

Competence has to be properly defined – it is simply not enough to be an expert and “know your stuff”. Competence is about the ability to apply one’s knowledge sensibly, proportionately and appropriately – that means profiling and prioritising risks and then recommending the right set of measures to control and manage those risks effectively.

Slide 14

There is a wealth of evidence that involvement of the workforce goes hand in hand with good safety performance and yet we know that there are many organisations where it still doesn’t happen. Our next goal is to reinforce the promotion of worker involvement and consultation in workplaces of all sizes and irrespective of whether they are unionised or non-unionised.

We believe we need to encourage a partnership approach based on trust, respect and cooperation. An important step in achieving this will be the promotion of joint training for safety reps and managers to build shared perspectives on health and safety.

We all know that we cannot do everything. Life is about setting priorities and identifying activities which will most quickly and effectively address the most important issues – the same is true in creating healthier and safer workplaces. Whilst there are some similarities in dealing with workplace health issues and safety issues there are also some important differences. Our goals in creating better workplaces for everyone therefore are:

Slide 15

Slide 16

Small businesses are an important part of our economy and it would be incorrect to assume that all small businesses are automatically low risk. Just as with larger organisations the level of risk is determined by the nature of the activities and how well those activities are managed.

Slide 17

It is important that we find new ways to help SMEs to understand and meet their obligations in a proportionate way – and we will commit time and effort to adapt and customise our approaches to help SMEs achieve compliance.

Slide 18

At the other end of the scale, we have a significant number of highly specialised industry sectors which do have the potential to cause significant levels of harm to their workers and to the public at large.

We will continue to work hard and maintain a strong focus on reducing the likelihood of low frequency, high impact catastrophic incidents whilst recognising the strategic economic and social importance of their continued activities.

Slide 19

So far we have focused very much on distinct health and safety issues, but we cannot do this in splendid isolation from other issues. Health and safety regulation is part of a broader suite of business regulation; local authorities handle health and safety in conjunction with other regulatory responsibilities. We need to strive to achieve balance in managing the interfaces between health and safety and other regulation and regulators. Taking account of these wider issues as we drive forward health and safety performance is the final goal of our strategy.

So, that, in summary is what our strategy document lays out as the way forward. It is shorter and more succinct than previous strategies. It is certainly not revolutionary, but as I’ve said we are building on the strengths of what we already have and therefore we believe the evolutionary approach makes sense to you as it does to us.

In many ways, developing the strategy was the easy part – the challenge for us all now lies in delivery.

Slide 20

I said that I would come on to what I think this means for you in business and for the role of standards.

If you are working in an organisation what it means for you will depend on what you do and more importantly, how good your health and safety system is today.

I would imagine that there are many of you here today who have non-unionised workforces – some may be part unionised, part non-unionised. You may also have workforces that are dispersed in many locations. I want to stress to all of you today the importance of workforce engagement – this is a message which applies to you whatever your circumstances. The evidence is very clear that good workforce engagement in Health and Safety leads to improvement in health and safety performance. But workforce involvement isn’t any different from any other aspect of health and safety – it is the way you approach it which makes the difference. If your approach is perceived by the workforce as doing it because you have to there will be no benefit. It is essential that you commit to doing it for the right reasons and, if you are starting from a poor/low level of involvement be prepared to encounter cynicism and scepticisim and stick with it.

I have said that leadership is fundamental and it would be impossible for me to overstate the importance of that message. I am aware that many of you in this conference today are health and safety managers, safety practitioners and consultants and human resources managers. I am delighted to see you all here today and I have the greatest respect for the very important work you do and the impact you have in all of your organisations. But do please ask yourselves how committed your most senior managers/directors are to health and safety in your organisation and do they demonstrate that visibly to the whole organisation – or do they delegate it all to you??

If health and safety is really integrated into your organisation and if you have a real health and safety culture there is a great deal more to the role of the Board than simply putting health and safety first on the agenda at every meeting and assuming the matter is covered once you’ve reviewed the list of minor injuries and near misses which have taken place.

Last year we issued guidance in conjunction with IoD on Directors’ Duties and Leadership. We have received lots of positive feedback about the guidance – because it was written by directors for directors it describes what directors should be doing to demonstrate health and safety leadership in language which is meaningful. One year on from release of the guidance we have taken our first step in assessing the impact of the guidance – and we have been able to measure a significant increase in awareness. But awareness is not enough leadership is about action on a sustained and concerted basis. So we really do need to see a major change in behaviour among board members.

I have spoken about the importance of assessing and dealing with the highest risks in every organisation whatever these may be. Developing and understanding the unique risk profile of the organisation is key to prioritising and to improving health and safety performance. If it happens that the greatest risk in your business is associated with a high proportion of your workforce driving on the public highways as part of their work then tackle it, don’t disregard it because it falls outside of the usual definition of “workplace”. Likewise there will be a higher risk of work related health concerns in some businesses than in others. This strategy should make it clear that we want to see a system in place where the highest risks are addressed in every organisation – not those that are easiest to address.

These are just some examples of how I would like to see every organisation responding to our strategy. As I’ve said, we see this very much as a collective challenge but one where we all have clear and distinct roles and responsibilities.

Slide 21

I promised also that I would talk about standards and how these relate to our new strategy. I have already said that I believe standards play a very important part in creating the framework for a properly structured and comprehensive management system. Properly implemented standards can help to support a strong safety culture. But there is also a need for balance and for ensuring that systems are fit for purpose. And given the ever broadening range of organisations and businesses which I’ve already described it becomes increasingly challenging to develop standards that can be applicable and fit for purpose across the board. We see an important role for a whole range of third party organisations in helping us to deliver the new strategy. One of these ways is that we are encouraging trade associations and employer organisations to play a bigger role in producing sector specific guidance and good practice guides. This may be indicative of the direction which needs to be taken by standards.

At the start of my presentation I praised the resilience of the 1974 Act and the principles set out by Robens. One of the most important of all of those principles is non-prescriptive, goal setting outcome based regulation. Checklists, guidance and standards are all helpful to dutyholders but they cease to be helpful and actually create a false sense of security when the dutyholders fall into the trap of “ticking the boxes” and stop thinking about the uniqueness of their own organisation and their own wealth of expertise in what is the best solution in their particular case. Fit for purpose and doing what is reasonable requires confidence and judgment – standards must be smart enough to enable people to assess when they have done enough, it must not drive them to do things that are over the top, over zealous and frankly, of little benefit to managing risk in that particular organisation.

Slide 22

At this early stage since the launch I cannot tell you how our strategy has been received and I am not expecting an instant reaction from you here today. I hope I have given you enough of an insight to encourage you to read the strategy and more importantly to engage with us in how you too can become part of the solution and work with us to deliver a major step change improvement in the performance of Great Britain’s health and safety system

Slide 23

I know there will be some who will choose not to join us on this journey – but I hope only a small minority. They will be held to account for failing in their health and safety duties.

I feel confident that in this audience today I am speaking to people who want to work with us to deliver on this agenda. Standards have an important part to play in this but as with all aspects of health and safety it is essential that we get the balance right between providing that very necessary framework to help people and on the other hand not being over prescriptive in calling for more than is required to the point where businesses feel burdened by the requirements rather than seeing us as helping them to stop their employees being injured and providing real bottom line business benefit.

Be Part of the Solution.

Thank you.

Updated 2009-01-06