This website uses non-intrusive cookies to improve your user experience. You can visit our cookie privacy page for more information.

Safety Reps’ Conference – 16th November 2010

Judith Hackitt CBE, HSE Chair

Speech to Safety Representatives at AWE, Aldermaston

Good morning. It is with great pleasure for me to be back here at Aldermaston. I made my first visit to this site over 2 years ago. Then I learned a great deal about the significance of what you are doing here and some of the key challenges you face. It was clear then that no one can ever doubt the importance of the work that you do here and the importance of controlling the hazards which are ever present in the very nature of the work that you do.

But I am delighted to see that you are facing this with a full commitment to creating a strong safety culture which is both incident and injury free. It is this integrated approach to embedding safety as a core value throughout the organisation which will ensure that the culture you build is not only strong but sustainable for the long term.

Establishing and remaining committed to programmes like this can be challenging in any organisation but this is always more challenging when an organisation is going through structural change or is facing uncertainty about future strategic direction and funding that will affect their business. I know that both of these things are the case for you here at Aldermaston and so I think both the Trades Unions and managers deserve particular credit for remaining committed to this programme and holding this event for safety representatives today.

You are already starting from a strong position and your achievements in the past have been recognised with a number of notable safety awards from bodies such as RoSPA. But what I am particularly pleased to see about your “Target Zero” programme is the focus on the valuable contributions which everyone not only can, but must, make to really build the culture you are aiming for.

Of course there are physical improvements that can be made in any environment to reduce hazards and manage risks, but I am a very strong believer in the power of the collective approach where everyone in an organisation looks out for each other as well as for themselves. It is absolutely the case that accidents can happen to anyone – no-one should believe themselves to be indestructible or “fireproof” and the health and safety of every individual on this site is important regardless of their position or status in the organisation, whether they are direct employees or contractors, unionised or non-unionised.

If you can create an environment where everyone on the site is empowered to intervene wherever and whenever they see the potential for harm, you will have a strong sense of team working and caring for one another which will drive you towards your goal of Zero harm to anyone.

Just over three weeks ago HSE confirmed the health and safety statistics for Great Britain for the year ending in April 2010. It was really encouraging to see the number of workplace fatalities at their lowest ever level and also the number of serious injuries decreasing. But let us not forget what these statistics actually represent and the story they tell of hundreds of men and women up and down the country who, during that 12 month period left home as usual for a “normal” day’s work and failed to come home that night – some never to come home at all, while others face weeks and months of painful recovery and rehabilitation processes before they can contemplate returning to work. Every one of these statistics is a story of a family, and a community of friends and colleagues who have been impacted by an accident in the workplace.

Those statistics also show us that the level of harm in the form of occupational illness as opposed to accidents is increasing. I am pleased to see that this is an issue you are tackling as part of your programme. You recognise the link between personal safety at work and the impact that injury and poor health can have on families, friends and on length and quality of life. I know that tackling occupational health requires a somewhat different approach from everyone to that involved in managing safety and it is good to see that you are developing and implementing a range of activities and promotional events which tackle lifestyle issues as an integral part of your Occupational Health programme.

I am sure that you will be aware that HSE developed and launched a new strategy for health and safety in Great Britain in the 21st Century just over a year ago and very recently we have produced an online report on progress in the first year. This progress report highlights a whole range of examples of good practices and initiatives which have been undertaken as part of the programme of delivery which is now underway. One of the examples of good practice which is cited in that progress report is the Olympics site in London. The report highlights their Occupational Health activity in particular but I would urge you to look more closely at what is happening on the Olympic site because much of what you are doing here is also going on there too. Some of the very best examples of empowerment of people at all levels to challenge behaviour and intervene where they see risk of harm are present on the Olympic construction site, and the benefits they have seen from their comprehensive Park Health programme are truly impressive.

There is very little doubt that good health and safety requires strong leadership. From the time that we launched the new strategy we made it absolutely clear that leadership was fundamental to success, because without it all of the other important elements simply will not happen. Leaders set the tone for whether health and safety is properly managed and whether others are properly and appropriately engaged in the process. Leaders make decisions on the extent to which there needs to be formal management systems in place to underpin workplace practices and activities, but they also decide whether their organisation is doing health and safety because it is good for the business, for morale, productivity, and because they care about their people the systems or simply because they have to do it to comply with regulatory requirements and to manage the battleground between management and workforce.
Health and safety should never need to become a battleground between workforce and management, although sadly in some organisations it does. Most often that is likely to be the case because the workforce can sense that management commitment to health and safety is either not there at all or doesn’t quite ring true. Clearly here at Aldermaston you are well beyond this point, not only do you have to be because of the very nature of the work you do and the hazards you deal with but the very fact that you are all here today is important. Proper workforce involvement and engagement is such an important part of bringing about the sort of culture you are endeavouring to create.

I’ve already stressed the importance of leadership from the management side of the organisation, but it’s also very important to acknowledge that safety representatives and safety champions are leaders themselves. It is part of your role to speak on behalf of your colleagues but the spirit in which you carry out that role is also important. You have a clear choice to make whether you present your health and safety concerns to management as problems for them to sort out and fix, or whether you offer up possible ways of solving the problems you identify and make yourselves part of the solution not part of the problem.

Just as with the managers in your organisation you have to decide where the real priorities lie – what are the biggest risks that need to be addressed. Sometimes your colleagues will raise personal health and safety gripes/concerns with you and it has to be part of your role to help them see their concerns in the broader perspective of the whole risks profile and decide on the real priority. Some will undoubtedly be important but I would dare to suggest that some, if raised as needing fixing, would detract resources that would be better spent on solving other problems.

If you are seeking examples of good practice which could offer you some food for thought in this area I can commend to you the programme which is taking place at Devonport Dockyard entitled “Time out for safety”. This is a programme which builds in time every day for discussion and review of safety matters involving everyone and in an informal but structured way.

So far I have spoken about your programme and given you my full support and encouragement to keep going and to look at other industry sectors for inspiration and ideas about good practice. It is also important that before I close I say something about the role of the regulator in all of this.

We have said in HSE’s strategy ‘Be Part of the Solution’ that it is our role to lead the health and safety system as a whole but that others must recognise the key roles and responsibilities which they have. We do not manage the risks in any workplace but it is certainly the case that we devote more time and attention to ensuring that the risks are properly and well managed in major hazard sites such as yours. No matter how good the safety culture is at preventing the accidents and smaller incidents which can cause injuries to staff we must also remember that it is absolutely fundamental that we prevent catastrophic events from taking place.

Many of you will be familiar with a number of very serious incidents that have happened around the world in recent years – Texas City, Buncefield, the Nimrod crash, the Macondo oil platform explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. Some of these major incidents have already been fully investigated, others are still the subject of ongoing inquiry and investigation. What is imperative in all cases is that we learn the lessons from these incidents and apply them as widely as we possibly can – first of all by not allowing ourselves to think “that’s a different industry from mine”.

By drawing together the lessons from events such as the Columbia space shuttle disaster, Texas City and the Nimrod inquiry, HSE’s Nuclear Directorate has started to develop a regulatory strategy for Leadership and Management for safety.

This is still work in progress but some of its key elements are worth mentioning here:

Throughout HSE we need to develop and refine our approach to ensure that we continue to be an effective regulator in the 21st Century. We have to build on our good practices but also adapt our approaches as dutyholders develop and evolve their own practices. We, like you, will see change as a result of the Government’s spending review but it is clear that major hazard industries like yours will remain high on our priority list. I am confident that through this period of uncertainty and change for us all we can continue to develop ever improving safety cultures in all industry sectors in Great Britain if we all play our respective roles, work together in real partnership and collaboration and focus on those things that are really important.

Thank you very much for the invitation to join you here today. I wish you the very best with your programme to build and sustain your particular safety culture and with your discussions this afternoon.

Updated 2010-11-22