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Westminster briefing – 17 March 2016

Dame Judith Hackitt DBE, HSE Chair

A New Strategy for Health & Safety

Good morning and thank you for inviting me to speak again at a Westminster Briefing event. This is one of the last speaking engagements I will be making as Chair of the Health and Safety Executive. Much has changed in the eight plus years I have been in post - in the world of work, in the health and safety system and at the Health and Safety Executive.

I took on Chairing HSE because I had the highest regard for the organisation and the role that it had played in delivering a world class performance across workplaces in all sectors of the economy.

You have asked me to speak about health and safety regulation in the future. But I am not going to talk about that – I want to focus on the system as a whole and the roles that we all must play.

Fatality stats comparison

GB’s health and safety record is world class. It is built on our regulatory framework and the health and safety system. They benefit from continuous improvement and by not being prescriptive by nature, and being built on cooperation and working together – employers and employees recognising that they share common interest in addressing this important agenda. Others around the world want to learn how we do things.

Improvements over time

All of us in this room are part of that health and safety system that has developed over the last 40 years. We can be rightly proud of our achievements to date. But even within a successful system, we cannot be satisfied when there were 142 deaths last year, 1.2 million people suffering from a work related illness and 23 million working days lost to ill-health at a cost of £9 billion to the economy.

We have reached a point where a new system strategy is needed, because our success presents us with opportunities – and also with some challenges. To name a few of the latter:

We know we can make the system even better – but the challenge is making sure it is done in a proportionate and sensible way.

More is not always better

Better does not always mean doing more though. It’s about identifying and managing real risks more smartly. Having the courage to say when doing less would be appropriate – for example if risks are trivial or the risk management is over the top.

We need to act together to gain broader ownership and commitment. That means we need to talk, share ideas and find the courage to take some new directions. We need to broaden the membership of the ‘health and safety system’. And we need to identify potential synergies with other policy agendas.

Employers, workers and their representatives. Governments and others who are part of the system. We all need to think hard about our role and our contribution.

Stop, Think, Act

I would ask you all to reflect on these questions:

It’s worth reiterating that I am NOT describing a strategy for HSE – it is for the whole health and safety system. It’s for everyone who has a role in helping Great Britain work well.

We discussed the outline themes face to face with hundreds of stakeholders around Great Britain in the first two months of 2016 and reached millions more through social media. The conversations we had made it clear that we have strong support for all of the themes in the new strategy. And what we have seen is more than just ’support’, there is a huge amount of energy and a desire to get involved in driving improvement in all parts of the system.

There is broad agreement among those with whom we have engaged that preventing harm to workers and the public is integral to businesses being successful and achieving sustained growth. Our collective challenge is to ensure that this is known, understood and becomes embedded firmly in everyone’s thinking – and in all of our actions.

Principles that work

The principles of our system are sound and have stood the test of time:

Too much complexity and bureaucracy has built up around health and safety. We heard many people say that we already have the knowledge to make the themes a reality. The message that this is about being smarter – not simply doing more – resonated with our audiences. By keeping things as simple and straightforward as possible we can ensure that all businesses see this as enabling them to be successful and productive. That is why this is not a talk about regulation.

Strategy doc slide

The new system strategy is called ‘Helping Great Britain work well’. And it is built on a basic premise: by acting together the system can be greater than the sum of its parts.

There are six themes

Acting Together Theme 1

The first is about ‘Acting together’ – promoting broader ownership of health and safety in Great Britain.

Anyone who has heard me speak during the time I have been Chair of HSE will know that I’m passionate that health and safety should not be a responsibility assigned to a particular individual or part of an organisation, but something that is an integral part of everyone’s role.

Strong and visible leadership within organisations is vital to help deliver greater ownership.

Encouraging others to take ownership of health and safety will be critical in making this theme successful. This means everyone collaborating to reach those who may have been less engaged.

Tackling Ill Health Theme 2

The second theme is tackling ill health. Good work has already been done. But it needs to be taken to a different level now, with health being given the same priority as safety across the system. Work-related ill health is a problem for every section of society, with conditions ranging from cancer and other long-latency diseases, to stress and musculoskeletal disorders. Greater awareness of the harm, costs and preventability should drive collective action to improve health outcomes.

Last year, there were an estimated 13,000 deaths from work-related lung disease and cancer, reflecting historical conditions and standards. And 1.2 million working people were suffering from a work-related illness. That’s around 4% of Britain’s entire workforce. Half a million of those were new conditions that started during the year.

The benefits of reducing workplace ill-health will reach beyond the health and safety system, helping cross-Government initiatives to improve Britain’s well-being and prosperity. The drive must come from all those with a stake in keeping people healthy and fit for work.

Managing Risk Well Theme 3

‘Managing risk well’ is the third strategy theme. Well-intentioned but sometimes ill-informed advice particularly to small low-risk businesses needs to change. It can leave them thinking that the health and safety bogeyman, the insurers and everyone else are waiting to pounce and seem intent on getting in the way of them succeeding in business. That they need to have every conceivable risk – whether relevant or not – under lock and key and paper-worked in triplicate.

It’s in all of our interests to avoid feeding perceptions that risk assessments mean excessive paperwork. Or that risk management means managing all risks, however trivial or remote. This can be costly and inhibits productivity, creativity and growth. We assess risks so that we can manage them and then get on with the job.

Managing the right risks in the wrong way is wasteful. Focussing on the wrong priorities because they are less challenging is another trap we need to avoid.

Health and safety professionals have a particular role to play here. Helping a small company get it right in an efficient, effective and proportionate way is what being truly professional is all about. Focussing on getting the right outcomes is more likely to mean the company will grow and come back for advice as it reaches the next stage in its development.

Supporting Small Employers Theme 4

Which leads us to the fourth theme on ‘supporting small employers’. Giving SMEs simple advice so they know what they have to do.

Working together, we’ve already done much to support SMEs - including producing straightforward tools and advice. Yet this is also one of the areas where significant challenge remains.

Reaching SMEs is difficult, but not impossible. More players in the system need to step up to the winner’s podium where the best large businesses and intermediaries are already gaining more efficient supply chains and productive relationships. They are doing this by pointing the SMEs they work with in the right direction and sharing good practice that they can learn from and implement in a proportionate way – and that does not entail over complicated advice or creating unnecessary barriers and costs to doing business.

keeping Pace With Change Theme 5

Looking to the future also provides the fifth key theme – ‘Keeping pace with change’. This, once again, is for everyone in the system. But it is an area that HSE has a particular role using its world-leading research capabilities. They are already being put to use increasing HSE’s own efficiency and targeting, as well as helping in Great Britain and overseas to improve health and safety and productivity. HSE’s horizon scanning expertise will be used to the full, both by HSE and to assist governments as demographic, technological and global economic changes affect the world of work. But your ideas for how we can track trends and changes, as well as any particular challenges you see on the horizon could be invaluable. Building safety in at the design stage as we innovate for the future is most definitely a topic we need to explore and a mindset we need to embed in every sector.

Sharing Our Success Theme 6

The final theme is ‘Sharing our success’. It’s about sharing best practice both at home and abroad. Supporting higher standards of protection for workers in countries where it needs improvement. This can help project British influence overseas and make it easier for British businesses to expand into new markets and territories.

HSE will continue to take its responsibility as the prime mover in the system seriously. We will continue working with everyone here, co-regulators and colleagues across governments to ensure our regulation is as simple – and effective – as possible. And continue to leverage HSE’s expertise to achieve improvements, such as the £21.2m of savings to businesses that HSE’s regulatory simplification brought over the last five years.

Improvements HSE has made

We have made managing health and safety simpler and more straightforward, without lowering standards. HSE has revoked, consolidated or improved 84% of the legislation it is responsible for during the last Parliament, including reducing the overal0l stock of its legislation by 50%. No mean feat. We are also making greater use of intelligence, insight and technology to target interventions more effectively. This ranges from how our inspectors know which sectors and businesses to prioritise, to how our campaigns reach the people they need to and get them to act, including award winners such as ‘Make the promise’ in agriculture and ‘Every job beware asbestos’.

All of the strategy themes are interconnected.

Final / Thank you Slide

If we can all come together to help achieve these things, and maintain the gains made in safety, it will help improve productivity, keep business costs down and keep workers safe and well. Work should not make people ill. When it does it is a cost borne by the individual, their family, the business and many parts of the State. It is avoidable and often inexcusable.

Thank you for listening and please make sure your work helps GB work well.

Updated 2016-03-29