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IIRSM Health and safety at work annual conference 2014 - 13 November 2014

Judith Hackitt CBE, HSE Chair

Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to speak at this event again this year. I had no hesitation in accepting an invite to address you all again  I’m particularly looking forward to the panel discussion later along with Louis, Terry, Steve and Greg – I hope I will be able to answer all of your questions – because that is what events like this are really all about – a chance for you to get the answers you are looking for.

I will update you on progress on a number of things I talked about last year including Fee for Intervention, the asbestos campaign, occupational health and the CDM Regulations, shortly.

But before I get there, I want to bring you up to date with what has been – and is – happening at the Health and Safety Executive. Since I last spoke here, we have seen the government response to the triennial review – which was  led by Martin Temple from EEF. We have seen another change of Minister. We’ve also appointed a new Chief Executive, Richard Judge, who started with us this week, and we have appointed two new Board members – Richard and the new board members will bring new skill sets into HSE to match the future strategy which is now emerging following the recommendations in the triennial review.

There is a need for us all to continually adapt – to look at our environment, what’s going on elsewhere in the world of work, our performance, our technologies and so on and make sure that we are reflecting this is in our policies and practices as regulators, businesses and professional associations. Only by doing this will we both learn from the past and ensure continued improvement and prosperity for the future.

HSE has set a new strategic direction as an organisation.  It is our strategy for keeping HSE a modern, effective independent regulator and provides HSE with a roadmap to maintaining its position as a world class regulator whilst also pursuing new opportunities.

There are three overarching themes to the strategy. These are to:

  1. first and foremost, protect and strengthen HSE’s regulatory capability;
  2. make our knowledge and knowhow available to those who seek to improve their health and safety systems both nationally and internationally, making full use of the commercial potential of HSE’s intellectual property and its reputation as a world class regulator; and
  3. seek out opportunities to recover more of the costs of regulation from those who create risks, transferring the costs of regulation from the taxpayer to the risk owners.

We have set this direction not only in light of the triennial review – But because it makes good business sense. Many of you have told us many times that you want to see more of HSE out in the field sharing our knowledge and providing valuable advice. We want to do that but we know that it would be wholly unrealistic to expect this to be funded by the public purse. Extending the scope of what we do as a regulator can provide the means to keep investing in our regulatory functions and creates a sustainable, long-term business model that is less reliant on taxpayer funding. So by transforming the way HSE operates to make the most of its many strengths and successes we will be responding to what you have asked us to do, benefiting HSE and Great Britain as a whole.

I have spoken about unlocking our commercial potential but what does this mean? I want to be clear, even if you have heard me say this before - this is not about privatisation – or even “pimping the regulator” as some have chosen to label it - it is commercialisation of our knowledge and expertise alongside continuing our role as a world-class regulator and public body. And that last bit – continuing our role as a world class regulator – is at the heart of what we are doing. Our reputation and standing, here at home and around the world is built upon what we do as a regulator, if we fail to maintain our core business purpose and our reputation there is no commercialisation, we would have nothing to offer. We are seeking to develop commercial opportunities where they contribute to improved management and control of risk – we see it as entirely complimentary to our core role – not a distraction from it.

By offering a greater range of products and services to help British businesses manage occupational health and safety risks we will be doing more to support workplace health and safety performance and business productivity here in Britain.   

What’s more, by sharing the success of our regulatory approach abroad we will be supporting higher standards of protection for workers the world over.  We will also be projecting British influence abroad and providing a competitive advantage to British businesses who are already familiar with operating under our regulatory framework.

By using commercialisation as an opportunity to share our approach and expertise, we are creating a system from which everyone can benefit.

Lots of people are aware of the existence of HSL as an agency of HSE, but few have a really good understanding of the scope of the work that HSL carries out and how it is intricately linked to the work of HSE. It is the combination of the 2 organisations which gives us a unique capability. HSL provides forensic expertise to HSE in the investigation of incidents. That science based evidence is often crucial to bringing successful enforcement action. But that science based knowledge also enables the whole organisation to learn and that learning goes into the development of new policies and new/revised regulation.

HSE’s frontline inspectors identify challenges which exist in workplaces in many different sectors – ranging from dust and gas exhaust ventilation design, infection control and ergonomics – all areas where we can and do commission research and scientific solutions from HSL – all of this work is aimed at prevention not investigation after an incident. It is this complex mix of interactions between HSE and HSL which creates a unique knowledge and expertise base which we are now looking at ways to share more broadly.

So what will our new approach look like? We are still very much at the stage of work in progress although there are some significant examples already up and running. 

One such example is the knowledge and expertise we have related to land use planning around major hazards sites. We already have a role as a statutory consultee when developments are planned close to a large COMAH site. But our belief is that there is a more valuable and more constructive role that we can play earlier in the process that is likely to lead to better outcomes for everyone.

HSE are currently consulted fairly late on in the planning process when developments are in an advanced stage. If we have issues or questions this can cause delays in getting the development built. So we are looking at offering developers the chance to buy our technical input early on in the process so issues can be discussed and addressed and design modifications made, which will hopefully avoid any delays further down the line, accelerate the approvals process and reposition our knowledge input as part of the solution rather than a late stage block in the process.

HSE has an excellent global reputation as a world-class regulator. Other countries want to emulate our system. This year I have been in UAE and Singapore to discuss potential opportunities to support their work. It is right that we should offer our advice and experience to help and support other countries in developing their systems. The process of engagement in other countries takes time to build and this diagram shows the different levels of our engagement currently.

There is interest in much of what we do, but 2 areas in particular attract interest wherever I visit – one is to better understand the improvements we have made in construction safety in the UK and the other is to understand what makes our regulatory regime for major hazards so effective. No one would argue that it is important for us to share what we have learned in these areas with others because of the potential to save lives elsewhere in the world. Access to our guidance via the web is free to anyone around the world and should remain so, but it takes more than a re-print of guidance and ACOPs to set up an effective health and safety regime. It is that know how that has a value. And it is also right that we should seek to charge for this and to reinvest this income in maintaining our regulatory capability here, at home.

We believe this is an important and exciting role for us to take on – and one which can in turn deliver benefit for British business, if the safety regime in other parts of the world is one which is familiar.

Taking a more commercial approach in this area will not impact upon our continued support to the Government with meeting international obligations both in the EU and the wider world. For example, at present we are liaising with colleagues in the Department for International Development and the International Labour Organization (ILO) about how we can assist the ILO.  

Like every other part of the public sector we have seen our funding level from Government reduce over the last 5 years and there is every reason to expect further reductions post the general Election next year – whatever the political outcome. So to remain a strong regulator and maintain our resource and expertise levels we have to adapt out business model. It is no different for us than it is for any of you in your businesses – change and adaptation is a continuum not a one off.

Two years ago, we introduced the Fee for Intervention scheme, to recover more of the cost of regulation from those that create the risk – in this case, those who were found to be in material breach during an inspection visit. We knew that the introduction of FFI would raise some issues and concerns – with our own staff and with those of you in business who are subject to inspections.  We listened to all of those concerns and took care with how we implemented the system, including a dry run period before the start of charging, FFI has now been reviewed by an independent panel who have concluded that whilst there are still a few challenges with FFI, it has been effective in achieving the policy aim of shifting cost from the public purse to those who break health and safety laws. It is also clear that FFI has delivered greater consistency of regulatory decision making – which has to be a significant benefit for those of you on the receiving end of those decisions. I have always said that those of you who do the right thing have nothing to fear from FFI and I hope that is becoming more self evident with the passage of time. I am realistic enough to know that FFI will never be universally welcomed and some may continue to press for it to go away, but the review has confirmed that it is working and it is here to stay. These things don’t just bridge the funding gap, they are the right things to do. They will make us a better regulator.

But moving on now to some of the other areas I spoke about ago. Where are we now?

Occupational disease remains a big issue. It is estimated that 1.2 million working people are suffering a work related illness, 13,000 work related deaths and 535,000 new cases of illness each year. The cost to society is estimated to be ‘double figure’ billions. We really do have to do more to tackle this problem. Action is needed by all industries and occupations involved – but that action needs to be targeted on the biggest risks in your sector and the things that will have the most impact.

HSE has already undertaken successful campaigns and programmes of work to start to tackle ill-health issues such a musculoskeletal disease, noise, and respiratory disease from exposure to chemicals such as isocyanates.  The activity undertaken spans the range of occupational disease areas and uses a number of different approaches.

Our current focus is on tackling occupational cancer and respiratory disease. The latest health and safety stats out a few weeks ago show that past occupational exposure to known and probable carcinogens is estimated to account for about 5% of cancer deaths and 4% of cancer registrations currently occurring each year in Great Britain. This equates to about 8,000 cancer deaths and 13,500 new cancer registrations each year.

One of the main issues facing HSE in this area is how we secure authoritative expert advice to support our strategy. The occupational disease conference held in March 2013 recommended that HSE review how we access expert scientific and medical advice on this topic. We have attempted to appoint a Chief Medical Advisor on two occasions, but it was evident from these processes that one person could not cover the breadth of what we do. Therefore, we are now looking at forming a new independent expert medical and scientific advisory forum of around 10 leading experts who will each bring in depth knowledge across the full range of health issues we need to consider.

We will need to think carefully about how this new panel will interact with our current arrangements to engage other wider stakeholder groups who also provide valuable input on health matters. Tripartite engagement continues to play a very important role in HSE’s activities and is an integral part of what makes our regulatory system so effective.

We are also broadening our engagement on health matters to include organisations we wouldn’t normally engage with such as a firm of solicitors who are considering holding a conference on preventing occupational disease. 

And of course we are engaging with the IIRSM on your “Learning Occupational Health by Experiencing Risks” (LOcHER) project aimed at educating young adults about the risks as they are about to enter the workplace for the very first time. 

Our new Beware Asbestos campaign launched in early October and is aimed at helping workers at risk from exposure to asbestos; primarily trades people working on small sites and projects in the construction and maintenance industries. It will:

What is also important about or new asbestos campaign is that we are using different techniques to engage with our target audiences and to get them to change their behaviour rather than simply raising awareness. We undertook a huge amount of work before we launched the campaign to research what would be most effective and e will be evaluating its impact in due course. I think it’s exciting that we are trying new ways to reach the next generations who will be at risk if they don’t know what to do when they find asbestos. It’s rather sad that some seem to want us to hang on to doing things the old way.

I don’t want to go into too much detail on the CDM regulations as I know Greg Brown will be talking on it later. The consultation is now complete and I thank all of you who responded. The consultation received 1427 responses – among the highest of any consultation undertaken by HSE. The responses highlighted the diversity in the construction industry. However, at least from representative industry bodies, there was on balance a good, if not unanimous, degree of support for most of the proposals.

We consulted on removal of the CDM co-ordinator role. There is a widely-held view that the current approach is often bureaucratic and adds considerable cost with little value. As such it is often ineffective.

Industry stakeholders, including the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Association for Project Safety, as well as an overall majority of all respondents, were supportive of the principle. It makes sense that the pre-construction co-ordination should be done within the project team. The responsibility for the discharging of this function will rest with a designer who is already in a central position in the project team.

The consultation has confirmed to us that the removal of the statutory requirement for this role is correct and will lead to greater ownership of safety matters closer to the workplace. We will be working with industry over the coming weeks to take this forward.

HSE has to continue to move forward as a regulator and as a business. The world we operate in continually changes, and we have to adapt to that. We are confident that the changes we have made and those that we plan to make are the right thing for us to do – they make sense if we are to stay as a world class regulator  If the UK is to remain one of the safest places in the world to work we need to make these changes. No organisation I know of has ever maintained a position as world leading by standing still – our hard won performance on Health and safety in Great Britain is no different. I am immensely proud of what we have all collectively achieved over the last 40 years and I am determined to set this organisation on the right course for the next 40. We need to work in partnership with all of you to make this happen.

Thank you.

Updated 2015-05-19