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6th Annual HSE Excellence, Europe - Rome, Italy, 17th May 2012

Judith Hackitt CBE, HSE Chair

Regulating Health and Safety across the broadest business landscape - Great Britain's perspective

Thank you to the organisers for inviting me to speak at your conference. It is perhaps unusual to have a regulator speaking at such a conference. However, the fact that I am speaking first, provides a fitting context - the regulator providing the framework for the rest of the discussions that will take place at this event. I will talk about some of the recent work we have done and are doing in the UK to reinvigorate the approach to health and safety regulation but I will also share come of my personal beliefs and convictions about health and safety which are based on many years of experience working, like many of you, in industry.

In the UK over recent years, the rate of change has been rapid and I am sure this is the same in your countries too. As industries develop and new ones emerge the way we all work, including regulators, also needs to evolve.

Everyone working in the field of health and safety has to keep abreast of changes in industry we must keep learning and adapting by reviewing the way we carry out our work to ensure that our workforces are always as safe as they can be while doing their jobs.

I am going to cover:

So to begin, and as many of you may be aware, Great Britain has a tradition of health and safety regulation which goes back over 175 years. For much of that time, the legislation in place was very specific and inconsistent. It was introduced at different times for shops, railways, mines, factories and other sectors as they developed - often after the government had become aware of appalling conditions that workers faced. Therefore, by the time that we reached the 1960s, the UK had many confusing, and often conflicting, workplace regulations, with some sectors not regulated at all.

In the 1970s some big changes to the regulatory system took place. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 was introduced and the Health and Safety Executive - or HSE as our organisation is known - was established as the body that would regulate - or would be given responsibility to regulate in subsequent years - practically every workplace throughout Great Britain.

I apologise if I confuse anyone by using the acronym HSE throughout when referring to the Health and Safety Executive, but I will use HSE to refer to the UK regulatory organisation, not to the more generic issues of Health, Safety and Environment.

It is important to understand that our organisation is more than a labour inspectorate. We regulate all major hazard facilities - both on and offshore and chemicals regulation also falls under our remit.

In the 37 years since HSE was set up, the number of people of killed at work has fallen by over 80 per cent. And during that time, the Health and Safety at Work Act has consistently proven itself a solid and resilient example of good regulation that can be applied across all industry sectors – but I would be the first to recognise that it is people like you who actually deliver health and safety on the ground, not the regulator. But the regulatory framework is important to delivery.

As Great Britain's economy changed over time - with a shift away from heavy industrial manufacturing to a much broader range of working activities and work patterns - like office-based working and the growth of the service economy, the legislation covering workplace health and safety still remains as relevant today as it was when it was first introduced.

The reason for the Act standing the test of time is that when introduced it replaced much of the prescriptive – rules-based – industry-specific regulations, with a new regulatory regime based upon some very sound common sense principles. Principles that are still relevant and ones that we still apply today. We very much believe that goals based regulation is more effective than prescriptive rules. So these same principles are also relevant for the future and are what will lead us to excellence in health and safety, which is the theme of your conference.

The first and most important principle is about the responsibility that organisations and employers have. The person who creates the risk in any workplace, is best placed to manage that risk. In the vast majority of cases what this means is that there is a duty placed on every employer to identify and manage the risks associated with their business. So, whether you are the owner of a shop, a farmer, or the head of a major energy or construction company, it is your responsibility to identify the actual risks involved in carrying out your business and put appropriate measures in place to manage those risks to prevent harm being caused to your employees or to members of the public who may be affected by the work you do.

The basis of UK law requires risks to be managed and reduced to as low a level as is reasonably practicable, but does not require that all risks or hazards be eliminated.

But the legislation also places a clear duty on employees to act in a manner that does not put themselves or their fellow employees in danger. This principle is entirely consistent with the notion of identifying those who can create risk - safe systems of work are established by the employer but employees, once trained, must also behave responsibly.

The principles of risk creators being responsible for managing risk and of reasonable practicability remain the cornerstones of our regulatory framework.

Enforcement and prosecution are a part of what we do at HSE. It is an important part of our role to hold companies to account and to provide an effective deterrent to others who may be tempted to take similar risks. But our overriding mission is to prevent death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work activities. Regulation and indeed the regulator, cannot do this alone.

So our approach involves many other aspects:

In 2009, HSE launched a new strategy for the health and safety system of Great Britain. It preserved and re-stated the principles of the Health and Safety at Work Act, but it also identified and highlighted a number of areas where further improvement was possible.

In particular, the strap-line that accompanied the strategy’s launch reminded all those who are part of the health and safety system of the importance of working together in partnership and by becoming Part of the Solution.

This was a deliberate move because we identified that to bring about further improvements in health and safety performance there was an even greater need for everyone to work together towards our common set of goals.

This approach is designed to create the opportunity for those companies, organisations or individuals that are committed to doing the right things in driving up health and safety performance to show cross-sector leadership by working together to learn lessons and share good practice. It recognises the important role of trades unions, employers' organisations and others in creating the right culture and ensuring that health and safety is part of doing business well, not a burden driven by regulation.

This holistic approach enables us as the regulator to focus more of our time and attention on the areas where more assistance is needed - whether that is to individual companies or sectors where there is a history of poorer performance, but it also recognises what it is for others to do and encourages them to play their part.

The strategy stated clearly that leadership in health and safety is fundamental because it governs the kind of health and safety culture an organisation has. We need the leaders of organisations to set the tone from the top. By doing this, health and safety becomes a fundamental part of how a business is operated so that it is ingrained and embedded at every level throughout the organisation. With strong leadership, people feel competent and confident in what they do and everyone becomes a leader in health and safety in some way.

Without leadership and proper ownership of responsibility we know that improving standards in individual organisations and delivering the strategy simply will not happen.

Our strategy also highlighted the importance of the real involvement of workers in managing health and safety at work.

Worker involvement and engagement has always been an important part of the UK's approach to Health and Safety and in spite of the changing landscape of workforce organisation today that remains the case.

According to research, a higher level of employee consultation is linked to reduced instances of stress and of musculoskeletal complaints. In addition, people who feel valued and involved in decision-making play a big part in a higher performing workplace.

An engaged workforce leads to:

This is because employees can provide valuable feedback on the effectiveness of the health and safety management systems – if they tell you it is too complicated/bureaucratic then it probably is. And, whilst employers should tackle issues strategically at a corporate level, it is equally important to recognise that individuals provide insightful solutions to problems. The workforce are the 'eyes and ears', they are most familiar with the job and what it involves and they need to be encouraged to speak up if things aren't right and to offer suggestions for solutions.

Experience has also shown that once an organisation has 20 or more workers it becomes more difficult to deliver good consultation and involvement without some form of structured employee representation. We encourage organisations to have an embedded health and safety representative that can speak to senior management on behalf of the workforce.

Our efforts to reform and reinvigorate the UK’s health and system are ongoing – we sought to make improvements before the new strategy was launched and we have continued since. Just as you work in business to evolve and improve, so must we. It is vital that we regularly consider our approach and adapt it to ensure its effectiveness is always maximised.

Over the last two years in particular there have been a number of very significant events and reviews in the world of health and safety.

We are now implementing a number of recommendations for change and reform but the 2009 strategy I referred to previously is still valid and it remains our “roadmap” and helps steer us in the right direction. The various reforms simply mean that we will need to deliver the strategy in a different way.

One of the issues we face in Great Britain is that health and safety legislation is being wrongly applied and over-interpreted in some areas - this is damaging to the reputation of health and safety and we need this to change. I would also ask you to reflect on this during the conference.

The reviews in the UK have confirmed our view that:

HSE was already addressing the problem of 'over-interpretation' in some areas and new work is underway in others. We are:

You will understand from what I have covered that our approach as a regulator of workplace health and safety is to be focused and proportionate. HSE is an enabling regulator and we want to see the UK's economy pick up and for its businesses to prosper. When health and safety is done well it helps businesses to be profitable and does not get in the way.

The key to excellence in health and safety is in our view about keeping things simple, being proportionate and focussing on real risks not on the trivia and minor hazards which can most easily be controlled.

I would like to finish by giving an example of HSE's work as an enabling regulator. My example is the Olympic Park for the London 2012 Games. This is also a timely example as tomorrow the Olympic Torch lands on British soil.

This has obviously been a very exciting time. When we won the Olympic bid the government made a commitment, "to ensure a safe and successful Games and... to deliver a genuine and lasting legacy". HSE has played a significant role working closely with duty holders on the London 2012 project, which has an exemplary safety record, and we are part of a team working to carry through this high performance right throughout the Games themselves.

HSE was involved from a very early stage. We worked alongside the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) to ensure that designers and contractors had robust risk management systems set up well before construction even started. One key objective was to encourage strong leadership and the sharing of good practice throughout what was known as the 'big build' phase of the project. This phase involved the construction of the stadium and other sporting venues. Again, from the very start our focus was on targeting high-risk activities and, when necessary, we have also taken enforcement action.

But this is what excellence looks like. One of the largest construction projects in Europe involving over 80 million man-hours, with fewer than 150 reportable injuries and no work-related fatalities is an extraordinary achievement and something of which the ODA, and HSE as the regulator working alongside them, can feel justifiably proud.

We are now working with others who have responsibility for delivering the Games themselves to ensure that a proportionate and consistent approach is taken to the regulation of activities in London and around the UK.

We are capturing and taking forward the health and safety learning legacy from the London 2012 Games. HSE will be communicating the lessons learned to sectors, praising the good practice to encourage them to continue to improve health and safety standards. We have also been working with the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work on their current campaign in which the work we have done on the Olympics features as a case study.

The role of the regulator is about much more than securing compliance with the law. No regulatory regimes will ever be perfect, and regulation alone will not deliver an effective health and safety system. However, a strong and effective regulatory regime is an essential framework. From this basis we must keep adapting the work we do so that it is fit for purpose. We must all continue to focus on the real risks and ensure that the actions we take are proportionate  - we need to enable work to happen rather than create bureaucratic barriers. And we all need to work together to meet our shared desire – prevention fo death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work activities. That is about much more than regulation –its about leadership, passion, engagement and above all – keeping it simple.

Updated 2012-06-20