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SW Regional Network of Local Government H&S Advisers, Exeter

Judith Hackitt CBE, HSE Chair

13 October 2009

Thank you very much for the invitation to speak to you today. It was almost exactly a year ago when I agreed to join you at this event today and a great deal has happened over the last year. My first intention is to talk to you about the new Strategy for health and safety in Great Britain in the 21st Century – but what I also want to do today is to explore the many and various ways in which local authorities can play important roles in delivering the Strategy and improving Great Britain’s health and safety performance.

As you would expect I want to talk to about the important role that Local Authorities play as HSE’s co-regulators. Local Authorities regulate over half of our workplaces and cover the majority of that increasing sector of the British economy – small and medium sized enterprises.

But I also want to talk about other important Local Authority roles :

And I also want to talk about the hugely important role Local Authorities play in setting the tone for a common sense and proportionate approach to risk with the public at large.

Conferences and meetings such as this provide a great opportunity to bring people together to explore how to accelerate the process and move things forward. If you are a health and safety professional or a health and safety representative, you will already be very committed to delivering on this agenda. But I know that there are elected members and senior managers here today and I want to speak directly to you too about the important role you can play in showing leadership in your organisation.

Being public servants, we all have responsibility to lead, and set examples, including on health and safety even in this current economic climate. We need to help embed the culture that there is no excuse for neglecting health and safety – in fact it’s a good time for us all to reinforce the message that organisations succeed by taking common sense and proportionate approaches to health and safety risk – all key elements in the new Health and Safety Strategy of Great Britain.

But for you to lead in embedding such a culture you have to believe it yourself and you have to be credible in your actions as well as your words. But I will return to that later. First I want to start by explaining the genesis of the new Strategy.

The 1st of October marked the 35th anniversary of the Health and Safety at Work Act. It  remains the principal legislation under which all Health and Safety regulation operates. It has been a resilient piece of legislation – just as relevant today as it was 35 years ago. This is remarkable considering the substantial changes that have taken place in the workplaces across Great Britain. A key reason it has been so resilient is down to the goal setting rather than the prescriptive approach, which provides clear principles – not least of reasonable practicability. The legislation is based on the principle that those who create the risk are best placed, and indeed required, to manage that risk. That applies to all workplaces, today just as much as 35 years ago.

It is legislation which has proven to be effective – measured by a performance in health and safety in Great Britain which us as good as anywhere in the world and better than most other countries. But good is not good enough given that we still see around 200 people die in workplace incidents every year, more than 100,000 people suffer serious injury and several thousand people suffer premature death as a result of harm which has been done to their health by conditions they’ve experiences in work.

It was against this background of needing to accelerate our rate of progress in further reducing this real toll of suffering to Great Britain’s workforce that the Board of HSE decided in early 2008 to develop a new Strategy. Maintaining all that is good and works well about our regulatory system but resetting the direction, adapting to take account of change and the broader context and ensuring that everyone plays their part – understanding their role and responsibilities and seeing themselves as part of the solution.

Local Authorities were involved with the development of the new Strategy through LG Regulation (formerly LACORS). During consultation we received confirmation of strong support for our being a mission that everyone here and across the health and safety field shares. Delivery of health and safety is not something that belongs solely with HSE and Local Authorities as regulators. Put simply, it has been everyone’s shared efforts in the past that have helped deliver our current safety performance. So, obviously it will be our collective performance in the future that will help deliver the new strategy and increase our performance further.
In this context, I believe the new Strategy is a clear and concise statement of our core principles and a sensible approach to health and safety in Great Britain. We needed to respond to:

The new Health and Safety Strategy

As you will appreciate more than most, today we’re still hearing and seeing the old story that bureaucracy has increased in the name of Health and Safety or rather “Elf ’n’ Safety”. We must all continue to make the distinction between real health and safety – stopping people getting killed, injured or made ill by work, and the nonsense and jobs-worths that shamelessly use health and safety as an excuse. We are slowly getting there and you, our partners, can help us try and regain the real health and safety brand – we need to get out there and help restore the real story.

Of course, the real health and safety agenda is embedded in HSE’s collective mission, which is clearly stated in the Strategy –

"the prevention of death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work activities".

The Strategy is subtitled “Be part of the solution”.  As I am sure some of you will be aware, at the formal launch, organisations were invited to make a formal commitment to join us – to become part of the solution by signing the Health and Safety pledge. I am delighted that Local Authorities have signed up to the pledge in their capacity as employers as well as co-regulators.

More organisations and leaders are now being invited to sign up online to show their commitment to keeping workplaces safe and agreeing to deliver – by:

Over 1000 organisations and companies have already signed up. This is real sign of engagement and commitment.

HSE’s business plan for 2009/10 in the regulatory field demonstrates how HSE will co-ordinate actions with our local authority regulatory partners to begin turning the Strategic goals into reality, in the areas where it clear that we, as regulators, must take the lead – providing advice and guidance, taking enforcement action and identifying new and emerging risks. Leading the system as a whole but ensuring that dutyholders do what they must do.

I said I would also talk today about your other roles in health and safety. As Local Authorities, you are large direct employers and you engage the services of many other businesses throughout your community as part of your many and diverse supply chains.

In many locations, your organisation will be the biggest single employer. What better way to take the lead on health and safety than by your organisation becoming an exemplar of good health and safety – and being good not by being risk averse but by exemplifying a common sense and proportionate approach to managing real risks.

The partnership between HSE and Local Authority as regulators is maturing well. We’ve quickly moved from a phase of building trust and learning how to work together, and are now on an equal relationship designed to deliver real health and safety benefit through joined up approaches to problems. I now want us to accelerate progress by working with Local Authorities as employers and major service commissioners to demonstrate to the very broad stakeholder community with which you interact, what good practice in health and safety looks like.

In that context, I now want to focus on some selected goals within the Strategy.

Leadership, WWorker involvement, and common sense approaches

The first goal I want to highlight is to encourage strong leadership in championing the importance of, and a common sense approach to, health and safety in the workplace. Linked to this is the promotion of worker involvement and consultation in health and safety matters throughout unionised and non-unionised, and contractors and non-contractors workplaces of all sizes, across all sectors.

Any effective health and safety system, in any organisation, requires strong leadership and workforce involvement.  This must include competent, relevant advice and guidance. The focus should be on real health and safety concerns, not trivial or unimportant issues, and ensuring worker involvement in decisions will allow more ownership of risk and lead to sensible and proportionate risk management.

It needs people to get involved early on in processes to influence and shape things – the way decisions are taken. It’s also about the long term, the lessons we can all learn for the future. Your leadership and commitment is fundamental. If you have health and safety advisers, they are an important course of knowledge but you need to ensure that it’s the people at the top and throughout your organisation who are showing leadership in health and safety – not delegating it all to those you designate as health and safety managers.

The arguments for showing leadership in health and safety are overwhelming. Not only should this lead to a reduction in numbers of people harmed by work, but from this, it should lead to a major reduction in cost to the organisation and to society. In addition, there’s a major potential for an improvement in motivation and productivity in all workplaces, including Local Authorities – through clear and inspirational leadership from the top.

In the present climate of cost control and budget constraint, good health and safety, done properly will increase efficiency and reduce, not add, cost to your organisation.

I want to re-emphasise that quite simply, the Strategy and health and safety is all about common sense, personal responsibility and integrity. It’s about not over bureaucratising or trying to eliminate all risk but it’s about exercising judgement – as individual leaders – and creating cultures where everyone is encouraged to exercise judgement within their areas of responsibility.

Health and safety approaches have to include all workers – we all want a competent workforce, exercising judgments and making sound, sensible decisions, not just complying with rules.

I understand that some research undertaken by the Local Government Employers regarding director awareness of the Institute of Directors/HSE guidance on Directors Responsibilities is going to be published early next year. I would advocate you using this research to review what you’re currently doing in your own Local Authority and assessing whether any changes are needed.

I know that you’ll be hearing from the Institute of Director’s Ian Dormer later when he’ll speak more about the duties and responsibilities of directors regarding health and safety. I’m most grateful for the invaluable help that Ian and the IoD have given to developing and promoting the joint director leadership guidance, which I know from personal experience has been very well received across many different sectors.

Elected member involvement

On the subject if valuable guidance, I was also very pleased, earlier this year, to be present at the launch of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health booklet ‘Think about health and safety – what elected members of local authorities need to know’. This booklet was supported by HSE and LGE along with the Local Authority Trades Unions. The booklet offers some practical and pertinent examples of ways for elected members to engage in health and safety. IOSH have done a great job with the booklet, which helps elected members to see the numerous elements of the complex health and safety role which exists in Local Authorities. Clearly the strategic role of elected members in the health and safety direction and policy making is key. It is part of leadership from the top and on public commitment with regard to your role in leading your own workforce and demonstrating that their health and safety is important.

I want to remind you that workplace health is important as well as workplace safety. It is a more challenging area in many ways because of the boundary issues about what is caused or made worse by work and what is a result of lifestyle. The Strategy makes clear though that every workplace must tackle the most important health and safety issues. Part of your role is to be clear about what the risk profile of your organisation looks like. It may be that health issues are more important in some areas than others. It will almost certainly vary from one department / directorate to another, depending upon the nature of the work. But it is only by focusing on the real risks – the things that really concern people – that we will gain commitment and buy-in, and start to make real progress.

In the case of your supply chains, your role is somewhat different. It is certainly your role to lead but also by setting standards and expectations in terms of health and safety. You can do this by reviewing the performance in health and safety as part of selection criteria at the bid stage and at contract renewal and you can do it by working in partnership with your contractors, not just outsourcing the activity in its entirety. There are some very good examples of where this is happening up and down the country – we need to identify and share examples of good practice. There is plenty of evidence to show that good health and safety is a sign of a good company – so it makes sense for it to be part of your selection and performance criteria.

The final point I want to make this morning brings us back to the need for common sense and proportionality to be at the heart of health and safety. I know that I am urging you to do what may seem onerous – especially if viewed as being all about procedures, rules, paper based risk assessments and general avoidance / elimination of all risk. But that is NOT what this agenda is about. Health and safety has always been about doing what is reasonable and practical – in short, applying common sense.

One of the most powerful ways in which local authorities can make a different in regaining the value of the real health and safety brand is by encouraging that approach in relation to public safety issues.

The media has a seemingly insatiable appetite for ridiculous “elf and safety” stories – banning conkers, hanging baskets, barbed wire round allotments, doormats in blocks of flats – the list is endless.

I know that there is a good deal of hype and exaggeration in many of these stories – HSE’s own myth of the month programme has made a big hit by setting the record straight on many of these stories. But most of these myths have their origins in isolated events which start at a small local level. This is an area where partnerships in applying common sense is essential. If a common sense decision has been taken it is easy to defend and set the record straight. If an over zealous risk averse decision has been taken even over something which seems trivial, the damage can be enormous – not only the immediate and escalating media attention, but it provides continuous reinforcement to those cynics who we must win over if we are to achieve our mission on the real health and safety agenda – preventing death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work.

Summary and ending

Your role in making all of this happen is vital. You are leaders, you are decision-makers, facilitators and agents of change. I am delighted that local authorities have signed up to our Strategy pledge become part of the solution.

I hope today I have helped to describe what we need to work on together and to make the case for why this is so vitally important – it makes business sense, it delivers health, well being and motivation in your workforces, it delivers better services. It makes sense and its all about common sense!

Thank you.

Updated 2010-07-28