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Safety and Health EXPO - May 14th 2013

Opening address

Judith Hackitt CBE, HSE Chair

Thank you to the organisers for the opportunity to speak at this conference. It is a great pleasure for me to be here among friends and colleagues from the health and safety industry.

I last spoke at Safety and Health EXPO in 2011. My speech then covered the delivery of our strategy and some of the changes that were occurring following the UK Government’s Spending Review. My focus is on what HSE is doing – although I am aware that your interests are somewhat different.

Our strategy called for everyone in the health and safety system to be part of the solution. This means people taking responsibility and providing leadership to ensure that when managing health and safety risks they focus on the things that really matter. Actions should become proportionate to the risks faced and a shift in mindset needs to take place to one that prioritises enabling things to happen rather than creating bureaucratic obstacles that need to be overcome. It is interesting to see a similar shift from PPE to cultural issues in exhibitors here today.

I am aware that we have an international audience here today, so what I describe may seem less relevant but the key point for any health and safety system is that it needs to develop and evolve, it cannot stand still.

Health and safety legislation and its effectiveness have undergone a series of reviews here. When I last spoke to you two years ago, Prof Lofstedt’s review had just been announced... The review by Professor Ragnar Löfstedt followed Lord Youngs review and subsequently Health and Safety has been the subject of a ministerial Red Tape Challenge process.

We see similar opportunities to reaffirm our approach being provided by the recently announced Triennial Review of HSE. For those not aware this is a routine review process that all public bodies undergo, their purpose being to examine the organisational and governance structures of those bodies - an alternative perspective to that of the recent reviews of health and safety which looked at the workings of the wider regulatory system.

We know and it’s been confirmed by the reviews that our regulatory system is largely fit for purpose - but the various reviews have shown that the problems with Great Britain’s health and safety is over interpretation and application. An over zealous approach is unsustainable and damaging in a number of ways which affect us all:

Done properly, health and safety is a proven positive contributor to the bottom line allowing organisations to be run more productively – to be more enterprising and innovative. As an industry, all of us in health and safety must ensure that we stay on track and keep getting on with the good work we do to protect people.

So, in addition to doing all the things which we are now doing to implement the recommendations of the reviews which have taken place in Great Britain, I believe it is very important for us to be mindful of what others who face similar challenges are doing and be open to learning about what is most effective. We should also be willing to share our knowledge, experience and our thinking about the changes we are making with others.

So, now onto a few of the things that are being done.

Regulation is being simplified and also removed where it is outdated or no longer appropriate. This is actually a process which pre-dates the recent reviews, but there is now a fresh impetus which extends beyond the regulations into guidance, codes of practice and our approach to inspection and interventions. Our aim is to make it easier for business to do what is required, without changing standards.

If we look in detail at some of the specifics - as examples of HSE’s commitment to improving and simplifying the stock of regulation:

Our Fee for Intervention cost recovery scheme has now been in action for 6 months.

HSE wants to make it straightforward for those who are doing, or want to do, the right thing. The former can essentially be left alone to get on with running their businesses; the latter are likely to be looking for help and advice on how to comply.

But, we are equally committed to ensuring that those who choose to ignore or avoid their legal obligations are held to account. So, Fee for Intervention underlines our approach to differentiating between on the one hand those who are committed to doing the right thing, and on the other, those who seek to gain commercial advantage by exposing their employees and the public to unacceptable risks.

Those who break health and safety laws are liable for recovery of HSE’s related costs, including inspection, investigation and taking enforcement action.  The many businesses that comply with their legal obligations have no need to worry unduly about this scheme. They will pay nothing.

I think that we have made significant progress and people understand, better than ever, that health and safety is too often used as an excuse for preventing activities. Those who wrongly roll out excuses are very likely to be challenged, of course by HSE and the Mythbusters Challenge Panel, but also by others.

Most panel cases we deal with have nothing to do with the workplace but we have seen some examples of pretty ridiculous over interpretation of health and safety in workplaces.

The Mythbusters Challenge Panel has proven to be a great success, but it is a great pity that the important work which we all know is involved in health and safety ever gets involved with things like:

Very few of the cases we’ve seen so far have anything to do with real workplace issues – but there are some. So, the challenge for our industry is to make everyone see that our role is to enable, not to get in the way. The wide range of companies and experts here today make an important contribution to the H&S system. Your continuing innovation, new solutions and services for business help us improve what we do and keep progressing.

But, we should strive to make our “best practice” better – even more focused on real risk and always proportionate. We need everyone to understand that good health and safety is good for business and an enabler for growth in our economy.

A similar mindset needs to prevail for all of you as suppliers of health and safety products and services your reputation will be stronger and business is more likely to flourish when your approach is common sense and you make positive recommendations that enable work to go ahead. As your markets increasingly move to other parts of the world outside of the UK, you become key ambassadors for the proportionate common sense, enabling approach.

So, in summary:

Our world class system is evolving to be fit for the future.

We continue to pursue the goals we outlined in our strategy. We have made clear what the role of the regulator is and that others have important roles to play in the overall health and safety system to ‘be part of the solution’.

Those who create risks must take responsibility for the risks they create, acting proportionately and focussing on the things that make a difference. If Britain is to continue to be one of the safest and healthiest places to work in the world, we need to all share and learn the lessons from the past and encourage each other.

So plenty of business as usual – continuing to do what we do well but also finding ways to improve how we perform our role and how we help others to play their part.

And, let’s all use this event to see what we can learn and share with one another.

Thank you.

Updated 2013-05-29