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Speech to HSE Ports and Logistics Conference, Liverpool, 14 January 2011

Judith Hackitt CBE, HSE Chair

I am delighted to be here today to acknowledge the progress that partnership working between HSE and the Ports sector has achieved in raising the profile of addressing health and safety in the sector. There is no doubt that there is now a strong commitment to improve health and safety standards and the purpose of today’s event is to explore ways in which the industry can work with other key players in the Transport and Logistics chain to drive down accidents and ill-health.

As an island nation, the contribution of ports to sustaining our economy and the standard of living to which we’re accustomed has always been crucial. I was reminded of this some months ago when I visited Felixstowe and saw for myself the challenges associated with running such a busy port especially in relation to supply chain pressures and the far-reaching impact that an incident on the dockside can have. Our success in globalised markets relies upon the ability of ports to adapt and operate efficiently as gateways to international trade. The astonishing growth of containerised freight, with over 500 million tonnes of freight handled by UK ports in 2009 alone, including 4.4 million container units, is testament to this. One example of a significant challenge just around the corner is the rapid expansion predicted in offshore wind farms which will put substantial pressure on ports’ facilities during the initial construction phase and which will then continue during their operation.

The title of this conference: A Decade of Progress, reflects the efforts made by Port Skills and Safety as well as member ports to address concerns about injuries and ill-health among port workers and, as a major part of this, to develop a training framework that gives workers the necessary skills and competencies to contribute to this objective.

Injury and ill-health data collated by PSS does show some improvement, whereas HSE RIDDOR data, on the other hand, shows a stubborn plateau in accident numbers. We know that there are issues around RIDDOR recording criteria and Industrial Classification (SIC) codes which do not accurately reflect port activities, but we must also acknowledge that we are still at the start of addressing the issues and there is still much to be done. Whether the figures reflect data recording anomalies or accidents to non PSS members, the real challenge is more fundamental in that: the industry needs to truly believe that it can move to a different place in terms of health and safety performance by identifying the things that will make the difference – and then lead the way to achieving that goal.

The last decade has seen huge changes. As I’ve said already, perhaps the most significant being the growth in containerised freight that has heralded the need for new work practices to accommodate larger ships and the operation of cranes needed to work the cargoes they carry. This in itself creates challenges. Not just for the training and skills required by the workforce, but in ensuring the safety of equipment. During my visit to Felixstowe which I mentioned earlier I was really impressed by the crane training simulator which is used there (I think something similar is on show at this conference) – a real example of good practice which I hope by now has become much more widely used.

Changing work practices requires close monitoring and management systems not just to ensure safe operation but also to ensure that equipment is properly designed to meet the demands that will be placed upon it.

Catastrophic crane failures have made the headlines in recent years not just in this country but worldwide, and have highlighted the potential for catastrophic incidents to occur in ports. I am pleased that the ports industry is now working with HSE and the international ports and shipping community to identify these and other emerging risks, and to set new standards for engineering examination and testing.

Emerging energy technologies also present us all with new challenges. The rapid growth of the offshore wind industry is a good example and one which is highly relevant to this audience. Legislation has to change to keep pace, and this new industry must look to others for established good practice, and ensure that risks are properly identified and assessed. There have been serious and fatal accidents on off-shore wind farms and in ports where wind turbines are manufactured and assembled, during transport of turbines or their components by road and sea, and where there has been increased demand for new equipment and support staff and vessels. Training and skills must not just keep pace with these developments but move to a position where the next foreseeable risk is anticipated and the means to address it is put in place before it can actually occur.

The new and emerging challenges are very important but we must not lose sight of the uncomfortable fact that the majority of accidents in ports are still due to the same old causes: falls from height on cargo and containers; falling loads; collisions with vehicles; drowning due to poor access from and between ships and quayside, and slips and falls on badly maintained quays and wharves, or on board ships.

Whilst Great Britain has one of the best health and safety performances of any country in the world, it is certainly not the case that all sectors of our economy are high performing when it comes to health and safety. We know that there are examples of good practice in all sectors. Indeed, other sectors have made a similar journey to the one you are embarking upon and have achieved a transformation in terms of health and safety performance. I believe it is possible for any sector to become world leading in health and safety, but that will only happen through leadership and commitment: real commitment from within the industry – something, the regulator cannot make happen.

When we launched our new Strategy in 2009, we made it clear that HSE cannot drive improvements alone. It is, and has always been, the case that we can only achieve our mission of preventing work-related death, injury and ill-health if we all recognise the individual roles and responsibilities we have and we all deliver. The strategy’s ‘strap-line’ emphasised this point by calling on everyone involved in the system to be: ‘Part of the Solution’.

Substantial improvements in other industries – such as the Quarries Target Zero initiative – which achieved a 76% reduction in RIDDOR reportable injuries over nine years – demonstrate what can be done when an industry sector makes a real commitment to working together to improve through the sharing of learning and good practice.
A decade ago no-one would have believed the health and safety culture change which has been achieved in construction was possible, for instance. There are still challenges in construction of course, but these are very much more concentrated in the small refurbishment part of the sector than on large construction projects. Some of the issues which have been tackled in construction may well provide learning for your own sector: site vehicle access and crane safety are the more obvious ones.

In both these cases, progress was based on strong leadership. Leadership is fundamental if you are to be successful and the make up of today’s audience strongly suggests that the required level of commitment exists in this sector too. But commitment is only the start. Leadership is also about walking the talk; all the time, with unerring consistency. And the reason for this is simple: creating an effective safety culture has to start at the top and be visibly and consistently led by actions – not just words.

To do this as a collective group of companies that’s engaging with such a broad range of stakeholders to implement integrated solutions – as you are doing – requires even greater leadership, and recognition that the whole sector is only as good as its weakest link. Seeking out and sharing good practice on health and safety, with your competitors, your suppliers and customers, in other industry sectors makes sense in the long-term.

I know that there is a great number of people who are making significant contributions to ensure this programme is a success. However, I do wish to make particular mention of how pleased I’ve been to see the Trades Unions represented and involved here today, not only by one of the speakers, but also by the presence of workers representatives from some of the ports, who I know have been involved in recent work to develop better guidance.

I am also delighted to see the practical, common sense, approach which is being taken in the advice and guidance developed by the industry, and now freely available on the Port Skills and Safety website. Guidance aimed not just at port employees, but also at all the other port users, such as visiting drivers, whose own safety, and that of their customers and other road users is so dependent on good practice in loading, unloading, and good driving practices.

And the reason for this is simple. No one’s health and safety can be achieved in splendid isolation and this is especially true of your industry whose scale means it spans a multitude of other sectors and activities. With 58,000 people employed in jobs directly related to commercial port operations in the UK, of which a third are based outside of the ports estates, not to mention the 1.5 million workers you interact with that are employed in the wider transport and logistics industry as well as the international dimension inherent in your operations – the need for collaboration; cooperation and communication is crucial if the health and safety of all your workers and all those visiting your sites is to be secured.

We know the UK’s commercial and industrial success is greatly reliant on the safe and efficient operation of our ports.

In this environment it is essential that we create a culture where good practice is shared – not just within companies or among UK ports, but among all those who are part of the transport chain – those whose actions can influence the health and safety of others, or who may be put at risk by the actions of others.
This conference demonstrates that there is a will to work together and improve together. The new industry guidance and the proposed regional workshops which will be outlined later offer huge opportunities to promote good practice, to learn from one another, and to set your own targets for improvement.

HSE will continue to support your work directly and through other stakeholders. We are also committed to support at the local level through the planned regional workshops, and a planned HSE inspection project in 2011/12 will concentrate on overall management systems, and management of contractors. But above all we need to be clear who is in the lead. You are the ports industry. This is your sector, you are the leaders .Believe you can really be world-class in health and safety and work together to deliver it. This isn’t a bolt on activity – it’s integral to measuring the success of any business or sector.

Thank you.

Updated 2011-01-25