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Speech for Confederation of Paper Industries Symposium for Chief Executives

Judith Hackitt CBE, HSE Chair, London on 14 October 2008

I am delighted to have the opportunity to address this Confederation of Paper Industries symposium for Chief Executives. I want to do several things today:

The progress you have made in driving down injury rates in the sector since 2000 is impressive.

I know that this is in no small measure, due to the really effective partnership working taking place under the Paper and Board Industries Advisory Committee. Advisory Committee in this context is not an entirely appropriate title because what is actually taking place here is a really effective strategic ‘delivery’ partnership – making things happen and delivering results.

The group focuses on setting strategic objectives framed in terms of health and safety outcomes to be achieved and then engages employers, through their trade associations, to take the lead in translating these into concrete (or should that be paper?) action plans for the three sectors of your industry  - papermaking, corrugated packaging and paper recycling.

I know that in July PABIAC launched its strategy entitled “Making a Difference 2008 – 2011”. I am delighted to see that it sets ambitious targets for the industry and builds on what you have already achieved in 2005 – 2008. Your approach is similar to that which we are taking in HSE in developing our revised H&S strategy for the 21st Century.

Since becoming the Board of the new unitary Health and Safety Executive in April of this year we have been working on our new strategy and we are almost ready to launch it for consultation – that will take place in early December.

We believe that what we must do is hold 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 operate changes and calls upon us to address new risks.

At the point where we reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of our health and safety system and its suitability for the 21st Century it's important to recognise the huge turning point which occurred in 1974 with the Robens Report which resulted in the Health and Safety at Work etc Act and the establishment of the Health and Safety Commission and Executive.

Compared to many other pieces of legislation which have been enacted before and since HSWA, the Act is quite remarkable in its resilience.

One of the key messages of the Act which remains as true today as then is that "Those who create the risk are best placed to manage it".

The evidence is there for us all to see that this approach has worked. Since the introduction of the Act, safety performance has improved by more than 70%. It is hardly a cause for celebration that > 200 people continue to die 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. What we in the HSE Board believe it tells us is that we need to look at what has changed and then make necessary adjustments to our strategy to deal with those changes. The same may also be true for you in the Paper Industries.

The world of work has changed. Many of the risks in your own industry 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.

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. "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'.

It seems that with the passage of time we've also become a bit confused about who is responsible for what in relation to health and safety. There's a significant body of opinion which continues to advocate the need for many, many more HSE inspectors as the 'only way' to improve health and safety. But it is incorrect to see ever increasing numbers of inspectors as the solution. Should we have one in every workplace?? The logic is flawed because it is based on the incorrect notion that we in HSE are responsible for managing health and safety in your workplace. We are not - you are.

I firmly believe that to do anything properly and well and embed it into the culture requires that you believe it is the right thing to do. The experts in health and safety then provide the framework for you to do the right thing in your business or organisation in a way that you know will work because you have thought about it and are committed to it.

Given your ongoing commitment and performance improvement over the last 8 years in the paper industry, I know that I am preaching to the choir here today. But I would urge you to be more visible in demonstrating your leadership.

Recognising the vital role that industry leaders play in driving through improvements in H&S, PABIAC is inviting Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) to commit their businesses to working towards achieving the PABIAC strategic objectives for 2008-2011 by way of submitting formal written pledges to PABIAC. In return they will receive a certificate of recognition and, if they wish, their company’s name will be added to HSE paper industry web page listing the names of companies who have committed themselves formally to the strategy. We have received written pledges from only three companies so far.

So as HSE prepares to launch its new strategy for the 21st Century lets just remind ourselves of the challenges we face together.

Our current performance is on a plateau:

There is a great deal still to do. Much more than can be achieved by HSE alone - that is why our strategy is for GB as a whole as well as describing our role within that.

Our plan is to launch the strategy formally in early December and at that time we will initiate a consultation process which will enable stakeholders to comment. But we want stakeholders to do more than comment - we are particularly keen to engage in dialogue not only on what HSE can or should be doing but also to identify the key active roles which we need others to take to deliver the strategy.

Between now and December we still have a lot of work to do to refine the strategy and more importantly to start to define the delivery process and HSE's key roles in delivery.

At this stage in the strategy development process I can tell you that many of the topics I have talked about today will be addressed. The strategy will not be revolutionary but it will set out to optimise the performance of the overall health and safety system. It will clarify the roles of the regulated, the regulator, the workforce and the many others who are part of the system.

We will emphasise the importance of leadership - from the top of every organisation starting with the Boards and individual directors. We will place leadership at the heart of what we see as the overriding strategic aim - the prevention of death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work activity.

There will be a strong focus on a proportionate approach - by dutyholders in being pragmatic and sensible in their approach to risk management, by health and safety professionals in giving competent advice which takes account of the need to encourage a common sense approach.

We will make it clear that worker involvement and consultation is important in every organisation - where trades unions are present and where they are not and in all organisations irrespective of their size or dispersal of work locations.

Every organisation is different and the risk profile will vary from one organisation to another. To reduce the toll of work-related injury and ill health we need to improve our ability to focus on priorities - whether by industry, by sector or by individual issue. We need every organisation to take ownership of the process to identify its own risk profile. That prioritising process must also recognise and distinguish health and safety and the different approaches which will be required to address the precursors of both.

Clearly with the level of ownership we have already seen from the paper industries we will want to work with you to understand what programmes need to be put in place to address the particular risks in your sector.

Equally, it will be important to decide on our respective roles. In the paper industry we already have a good clarity on this.

The mechanism for delivery of strategic H&S outcomes in the paper industries involves PABIAC setting and monitoring progress in achieving overall strategic objectives. Ownership of the delivery process itself rests with employers who are expected to prepare and implement company H&S improvement plans that dovetail with sector specific improvement plans formulated by the employer’s association’s (CPI’s) sector bodies (H&S councils and committees for each of the three sectors). 

As I have said, setting the strategic aims is a vital part of putting a strategy together but it is only part. Those aims will only become real when we have completed the next part of the process - defining how we deliver.  That's what we will be working on between now and when we launch the strategy in December.

But in the meantime let me leave you with a vision of what I hope we can achieve with our new strategy:

Let me now round off by reminding you as CEOs of how important you are as leaders of H&S and what that leadership role entails:

The supporting systems in your organisation including pay and progression must reinforce the importance you attach to health and safety management.

I would urge you to refer to the guidance we produced with IoD on Directors’ responsibilities (included in your packs today).

Health and safety leadership really is about good, integrated governance. It cannot and should not be addressed as an add-on. It is about visible action not words and it is about stewardship. It is also a continuous process. The risks and the risk profiles of your organisation will change over time. This is not an exercise which can be done once and then forgotten – it requires constant and regular attention by the Board. Systems and performance indicators will need to be changed and adapted as the risk profile of your business changes – this is and always will be a dynamic process which needs to be managed as an integral part of running a successful organisation.

Your leadership is also essential in determining what the risks are in your organisation and in deciding on an appropriate and proportionate regime to address those risks.

Understanding of the respective roles which we all have in delivering health and safety performance is vital – given the breadth of the agenda to be covered, the need to maximise the resource involved and to ensure that we can work together. We all have to lead and we all need to ensure that our efforts are well orchestrated and harmonised.

Thank you.

Updated 2010-07-28