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Annual conference of the division of occupational psychology of British Psychological Society

Judith Hackitt CBE, HSE Chair, 15 January 2009

Slide 1

Thank you for your invitation to address this conference today. I am delighted to have the opportunity to talk to you about Health and Safety in Great Britain in the 21st century and in particular to talk about our new strategy. We are currently engaged in the process of consultation with all of our key stakeholders.

In the last 15 months, since I became Chair of HSE I have spoken at many conferences and public events but this is the first time, as far as I am aware, that I have addressed an audience made up entirely of psychologists. I have a few concerns about how much assessment of me will be going on during the next 30 minutes or so, but let me also say that I am equally concerned about the psychological make-up of many of you. I am still trying to come up with a plausible explanation for why on earth you choose to hold your conference in Blackpoolin the middle of January!! Is it the bracing air, or the trams? The Pleasure Beach? I am truly fascinated by your choice.

Slide 2

Anyway, lets get down to the business of the day. I want to talk to you about the new strategy but more importantly, I want to engage you in thinking about how you can play a part in helping use to deliver the strategy.

Our new strategy was launched for consultation at events in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff in early December. It is quite different in a number of ways from anything HSE has ever done before. The consultation process is very different – throughout January we are holding a series of workshops throughout Great Britain. Our original plan was to hold 7 workshops but the level of interest we have seen from stakeholders means that we may hold as many as 10. I am delighted by the level of interest we have encountered.

Let us be clear that this strategy is about evolution not revolution. We already have many strong elements in our Health and Safety system and a performance which we can all take pride in. The unique goal setting regulation of the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act has proven to be effective, adaptable and resilient. But our good performance is not good enough and many of the challenges we face today are different from those of the past.

Whilst we continue to measure some improvement year on year in Health and Safety performance that rate of improvement has slowed and we need to look hard at what we can do to deliver a step change improvement in our overall performance.

Slide 3

So when the Board of HSE embarked upon the development of the new strategy we were clear that we needed to take stock of what has changed and to make adjustments to our strategic approach to deal with those changes.

Let us consider some of those changes:

Emerging and growing sectors bring with them new risks to be managed and new challenges. The strength of the 1974 Act is that by setting down non specific, generic but time honoured principles, we can apply those principles today to many more SMEs, to nanotechnology, to a rapidly expanding waste and recycling industry and so on.

The impact of this constant negative media coverage of health and safety on people within the system – is something I will return to later.

Something else which has changed with the passage of time is that we’ve become confused about who is responsible for what in relation to health and safety. The responsibility for managing health and safety in any organisation rests very clearly with those who create the risks – HSE is not responsible for managing health and safety in the workplace – that is down to dutyholders and employers.

Without that recognition of basic responsibility and commitment to do it because it is the right thing to do – there will be no good health and safety system.

HSE provides guidance and advice of what the law requires and takes enforcement action where we find breaches and non compliance. Health and Safety professionals including ourselves provide framework and support but leadership in every organisation is key.

Today we have many more small businesses than we did 30 or even 10 years ago. However turbulent the economic climate may be over the foreseeable future, we can confidently expect that trend of increasing proportion of employees being in SMEs to continue into the future.

We know that in the past effective workforce involvement, particularly where it has involved unionised safety representatives, has delivered generally better safety performance. But today, not only are workplaces themselves very different but there are also many more workplaces with non-unionised structures or a mix of unionised and non-unionised workforces – our task is to find new and effective ways to engage current and future workforces.

Many organisations are already fully committed to a properly integrated suite of health and safety arrangements and they know that good health and safety is good business. But in the coming months, the economic climate is going to test that commitment in some places and in others there is a much longer standing scepticism/reluctance to embrace proper health and safety which we must tackle.

Slide 4

So, having given you some of the context and the background, I now want to move on to the content of the new strategy. There is no shortage of people who are ready and willing to give HSE advice on what we need to do. But we are very deliberately and consciously inviting people to reflect on and tell us what they can do to contribute. That’s why we have subtitled the strategy “Be part of the solution”. This is not just a strategy for HSE, it is for the Health and Safety system of Great Britain as a whole. Our aim is to quickly agree the strategic aims so that we can all move on to thinking about what role we can play in delivery and making it happen.

Slide 5

Our mission is the prevention of death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work activities. There is a role for everyone of us to play but as I’ve said, clarity about our respective roles and responsibilities is fundamental.

Slide 6

Responsibility for managing risk rests with those who create it and every member of every workforce has a fundamental right to work in an environment where health and safety risks are properly controlled. But they also have a statutory duty to care for their own health and safety and for others who may be affected by their actions.

There is also a wealth of third party organisations, who can play a variety of important roles in driving health and safety improvements.

Occupational psychologists can help us to understand people’s personal motivations and behaviours and to develop effective interventions that will resonate with the factors that drive those behaviours.

The role of HSE and our Local Authority partners is to provide strategic direction and lead the health and safety system as a whole. In addition to inspection, investigation and enforcement, we conduct research, propose new regulation where and when needed, alert dutyholders to new and emerging risks and provide information and advice.

Slide 7

Our first goal in the strategy therefore is to continue our commitment to investigation of work related incidents and ill health and to take enforcement action to secure justice.

We know that this activity will continue to take up considerable resources within HSE and local authorities – but it is an important part of our role. Investigation, and ultimately prosecution, not only secures justice but is also vital if we are to learn from events and share the knowledge to prevent recurrence in similar circumstances.

Part of preventing death, injury and ill health is about providing an effective deterrent for those who put others at risk or deliberately flout the law.

Our approach to enforcement has three key objectives – compelling dutyholders to take immediate action to deal with risk, promoting sustained compliance with the law and holding people to account for their actions.

We make no apology for taking a strong stance on enforcement but this has to be balanced with the considerable time and resource we also devote to advice and guidance.

Slide 8

Our second and third goals are linked. We want to encourage strong leadership based on a common sense, proportionate approach. Leadership means accountability and visible ownership. Real health and safety leaders win hearts and minds of all their colleagues – directors, managers, workers and contractors. They shape the organisations’ ethos on health and safety – including on what it is and what it isn’t.

Slide 9

Linked to that, we also want to help managers to distinguish between what are real health and safety issues and what is unimportant or trivial.

Slide 10

Our next goal is to increase competence in health and safety to enable greater ownership, confidence and promotion of sensible and proportionate risk management.

Competence is about the ability to apply one’s knowledge sensibly, proportionately and appropriately – profiling and prioritising risks and recommending the right set of measures to take.

Slide 11

There is a wealth of evidence that involvement of the workforce goes hand in hand with good safety performance and yet we know that there are many organisations where it still doesn’t happen. Our next goal is to reinforce the promotion of worker involvement and consultation in workplaces of all sizes and irrespective of whether they are unionised or non-unionised.

Setting priorities and identifying activities which will most quickly and effectively address the most important issues – is important in creating healthier and safer workplaces. Whilst there are some similarities in dealing with workplace health issues and safety issues there are also some important differences. Our goals in creating better workplaces for everyone therefore are:

Slide 12

Slide 13

Slide 14

Small businesses are an important part of our economy and it is important that we find new ways to help SMEs to understand and meet their obligations in a proportionate way – and we will commit time and effort to adapt and customise our approaches to help SMEs achieve compliance.

Slide 15

At the other end of the scale, we have a significant number of highly specialised industry sectors which do have the potential to cause significant levels of harm to their workers and to the public at large.

We will continue to work hard and maintain a strong focus on reducing the likelihood of low frequency, high impact catastrophic incidents whilst recognising the strategic economic and social importance of their continued activities.

Slide 16

Health and safety issues cannot be tackled in splendid isolation from other issues. Health and safety regulation is part of a broader suite of business regulation. We need to strive to achieve balance in managing the interfaces between health and safety and other regulation and regulators. Taking account of these wider issues as we drive forward health and safety performance is the final goal of our strategy.

So, that, in summary is what our strategy document lays out as the way forward. It is shorter and more succinct than previous strategies. It is certainly not revolutionary, but it builds on the strengths of what we already have and therefore we believe the evolutionary approach should make sense to you as it does to us.

In many ways, developing the strategy was the easy part – the challenge for us all now lies in delivery.

I promised that I would share some thoughts with you on how I believe those of you engaged in the field of occupational psychology can help us with delivery.

Slide 17

Later in the conference on Friday afternoon, some of my colleagues from HSE will be leading a workshop looking at some of the psychological issues associated with Health at Work. HSE has been involved in the development of the Government responses to the Dame Carol Black report. We very much agree with the notion that ‘good work’ is good for you and we believe it is vitally important for the economy and for the health and well being of society that people are encouraged and helped to return to work as soon as is reasonable after periods of absence due to illness or disability. But we are equally clear that our primary role and the area where we can most effectively bring our expertise to bear is in the prevention of work related ill health occurring. We can and will continue to support the work of others in addressing the issues of rehabilitation and return to work but our focus will be very much on addressing and mitigating the causes of ill health in the workplace rather than on dealing with the length of time off work which happens after the illness has occurred or on dealing with health or lifestyle issues which are not work related – such as obesity and diet.

You will understand better than I that addressing the causes of work related ill health is no simple task and represents a significant challenge to us and to our many stakeholders with whom we need to work. We will need to seek out and share examples of good practice, develop confidence and competence throughout the system to deal with common and frequently occurring work related causes of ill health including stress and musculoskeletal disease. I would urge and encourage you all to attend the workshop on Friday because this is important work which must continue.

But I also want to take this opportunity to challenge you today to think about some of the broad psychological issues and challenges which we need to address as part of delivery of our new strategy.

Slide 18

First, I would like to explore some of the difficult underlying issues behind effective and visible leadership. One of my favourite quotes on the subject of leadership is

“I cannot hear what you say because what you do speaks a 1000 times louder”.

That statement holds true for what you do and don’t do if you are in a position of leadership on Health and Safety. I recently heard a real example of this from an HSE inspector. The inspector visited a factory and encountered some serious safety hazards on the shopfloor. The inspector asked for the site director (who was on site) to come down to the shopfloor to see the problems for himself. After waiting patiently for the director for more than 15 minutes the inspector was given a message by his PA saying that she was sorry for the hold up but they were struggling to find some PPE for the director to wear before he could appear on the shopfloor! A not-so-shining example of leadership.

Another example – not quite so blatant but nonetheless important, relates to the unspoken pressures and expectations which leaders can place on employees. No leader who says he/she attaches great importance to safety will have any credibility with their workforce unless their actions and their other demands of the organisation are consistent. There are countless organisations who state glibly that safety is their No 1 priority. It’s a very easy statement to make but one which is highly unlikely to convince the workforce even in the most safety conscious of organisations. A much more credible statement for any organisation to make is to say that business success (defined in whatever terms are appropriate for that organisation) depends upon having a strong health and safety culture. But organisations must not only say it they must mean it. Some organisations clearly do believe this and their leaders act consistently to reinforce this message but there are many others where this is not the case. Where managers and leaders do not really believe that health and safety is integral to the business, this will be very clear to those who work for them – whether its because they’re never seen on the shopfloor, or because when they do visit workplaces they walk past obvious safety problems or because they make demands of the organisation which cannot be met without compromising standards of health and safety.

I am in no doubt whatsoever that there is a great deal of work to be done to develop true, integrity driven leadership if we are to achieve the goals of our strategy. I believe that we have to increase our understanding of the barriers which clearly still exist in the minds of some leaders which prevent them from seeing – and believing – that strong and visible health and safety leadership will

Compliance with the requirements of the law will always be a strong driver but the way in which organisations go about achieving compliance will always be much more effective if they are acting out of belief that it is the right thing to do.

Slide 19

I would now like to bring to your attention another element of the strategy which is about “looking at new ways of tackling old problems”. The persistent poor safety performance in Agriculture is one such example where we have recently embarked upon a new and very different campaign to change behaviour and attitudes.

Slide 20

Our campaign is called “Make the promise, come home safe” and we are launching an extensive advertising campaign, plus direct mailing to farmers all aimed at raising awareness of the devastation to families which occurs when farmers are seriously injured or worse in agricultural incidents. The campaign has been designed deliberately to be emotive and to engage other people who matter – the farmer’s wife, children, friends.

Slide 21

We are using simple props like this baling twine knot as a symbol of making that promise to “come home safe”.

It is much too early yet for us to be able to say how effective this new approach will be, but I wanted to share it with you today as an example of the new ways we are prepared to try out to tackle long standing attitudes and behaviours.

We will need a great deal of help from people like yourselves to identify the key factors and emotions we need to focus on in other sectors if/when we want to conduct similar new initiatives.

Slide 22

I mentioned earlier in my presentation that I am concerned about the effects of much of the negative media coverage of health and safety. But I also have concerns about the broader risk averse culture that lies behind much of that media coverage.

Whether it relates to young people in schools who are kept in cotton wool by not being allowed to do practical science experiments or go on outdoor field trips or the cancellation or banning of low risk public activities for fear of something going wrong and civil litigation ensuing.

The impacts of all of this on our collective behaviour in society are very concerning:

I am convinced that you all have a very important role to play in helping us to address some of these broader and more fundamental psychological issues which are at the heart of making our new strategy a reality.

We must understand the factors which affect human behaviour in relation to:

If we can do that, we can achieve

I feel confident that in this audience today I am speaking to people who want to work with us to deliver on this agenda.

Slide 23

Thank you for your attention, thank you for listening. I hope you are ready to help us by becoming part of the solution. Your input and insight is going to be very valuable in helping us to turn this strategy into a series of delivery plans which will really make a difference.

I am happy to respond to any questions you may have.

Updated 2013-09-27