Full speaking note, 20 minutes
First of all, I want to thank you for inviting me back – it was good to speak with you earlier this year about HSE’s new Strategy. And I’m glad to be able to address you again today and look forward to an interesting panel discussion – especially agreeing how we can work together in the coming months and years.
You asked me to give you a short update on how the new strategy for Health and Safety in Great Britain is being taken forward. I will also discuss the fundamental need for, and key elements of, leadership in H&S, and how we all have a role to play. Panel discussions and other H&S events like this bring committed people together who understand the pivotal role that leaders and managers have in making things happen.
So it’s really about the roles and responsibilities everyone has in driving forward H&S. The effectiveness of the whole system is dependent on the way CBI and its members play their parts, and it’s about working together. People like you and your members need to step up to the mark to deliver what’s needed. The current economic climate must not be an excuse for neglecting H&S – in fact it’s a good time for us all to reinforce the message that businesses succeed by taking a common sense, and proportionate to H&S risk.
By way of a brief background to the timetable of the new Strategy, just under two years ago, when the old Commission and Executive merged, the new HSE Board used this opportune time to start developing a new Strategy. It was a way to direct H&S, both within HSE and LA regulators but more importantly for the H&S system as a whole.
HSE published the draft of our new strategy for H&S in Great Britain in December last year. This was followed by a wide-ranging three month consultation, and the final version was launched in June. The Strategy describes the whole H&S system making clear that HSE itself has important responsibilities including:
However, the Strategy also outlines that it’s not HSE's role to manage H&S in workplaces. This responsibility clearly lies with those who create, and thus own, the risks – for example the owners, directors, senior managers or "dutyholders" in organisations.
As some of you may have heard me stress before, this is about evolution not revolution. We should be very pleased in the UK that since the 1974 Health and Safety at Work etc Act, we’ve been effective, adaptable and resilient to the changes and challenges on H&S. But of course we need to improve further especially given the challenges we face today are different from those of the past.
So, whilst we continue to measure improvement year on year in H&S performance, the rate of improvement has actually slowed a little. We all need to work hard to deliver a step change improvement in our overall performance.
Of course, the real H&S agenda is embedded in HSE’s collective mission:
“the prevention of death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work activities".
And our recent consultation confirmed that there was strong support for this being a mission that everyone here and across the H&S field shares. Let’s again be clear here – delivery of H&S is not something that belongs solely with HSE. There is a role here for each of us to play and CBI and its members need to ensure clarity about respective roles and responsibilities.
Put simply, it has been our shared efforts in the past that have helped deliver our current safety performance. And it will be our collective performance in the future that will help deliver the new strategy and increase our performance further.
In recent years, we have seen many changes – not just within and to our actual workplaces but also in public expectation and societal values surrounding the world of work and H&S. There has been evidence of confusion surrounding who was responsible for what in the H&S arena (both within and outside organisations). In addition, the UK has seen a huge growth in the number of small- and medium-sized businesses, and less union-representation within the workplace. This situation is unlikely to change – an increasing proportion of employees will be in SMEs. And, today’s economic and business climate only adds to the challenges of uncertainty and a changing environment.
In this context, I believe the new Strategy is a clear and concise statement of our core principles and a sensible approach to H&S in Great Britain. The need for a new Strategy was led by new HSE Board who were responding, amongst other things, as I have previously mentioned, to:
We, therefore, consciously invited people to tell us how they can contribute – this is why the Strategy is subtitled - “Be part of the solution”. One of the key features of the strategy process has been the extensive engagement with stakeholders. During the formal consultation phase, over 700 people attended face-to-face workshops in 7 different locations across the UK to discuss the strategy; and more than 200 organisations responded in writing to the consultation. At the formal launch, organisations were invited to make a formal commitment to join us – to become part of the solution by signing the H&S pledge. I know CBI have signed the pledge, so thank you and you’ll be pleased to know that you’ve been joined by over 1000 other organisations and companies who’ve already signed up. This is real sign of engagement and commitment. Not only have we received strong support for the principles and goals in the Strategy but organisations are now signed up to working with us on delivery.
This is even more important today because there may well be the temptation, in these current economic times, for some people to think about cutting safety corners. But as we all here know and you will appreciate more than most – a safe and healthy business is a successful business.
The Strategy was launched in June and consists of 10 strategic goals. There are a number of issues involved including:
As you all know, clearly it’s the employers and those who create risk who are responsible for managing that risk. It is equally clear that employees, whilst having a right to protection, also have a duty to care for themselves and for others.
HSE and our LA Partners are here to provide strategic direction and lead the system as a whole. But it’s also important for people to understand and accept that third party organisations are also there to help provide support, guidance and insight – this is vital in helping to drive improvement.
I now want to turn to how I think you, as CBI, and within your member companies should take the Strategy forward.
CBI and many of your members have made the pledge – it’s now time for delivery. I believe that any effective H&S system, in any organisation, requires strong leadership, workforce involvement and engagement. This must include competent, relevant advice and guidance, and the focus should be on real H&S concerns, not trivial or unimportant issues. Ensuring worker involvement in decisions on H&S will allow more ownership of risk and lead to sensible and proportionate risk management.
CBI needs to be proactive and forward looking on the importance of H&S and risk. Of course there need to be frameworks and regulations but I’m talking about not just reacting to new laws or plans – but rather it needs to be about inclusion and best practice. High-level, support by the CBI for the H&S messages for their members will really help in the delivery of the Strategy. Further than this, CBI promotion of voluntary action on good practice is an excellent way to help eliminate the need for further legislation, for example on director duties, meaning less bureaucracy for all.
This means CBI leading from the top, sending messages to their own directors, who like their members’ directors, have duties in this field. It needs people to get involved early on in processes to influence and shape things – the way decisions are taken. It’s also about the long term, the lessons we can all learn for the future.
People are a key component of any business and organisation. Their health and safety should be an integral part of running an efficient business, for example to help win good clients and manage risk. The CBI’s promotion of these H&S issues and messages will help maintain a high profile for this link. Seeing CBI lead in this arena will give employees the confidence that their safety is being managed, leading to a positive workplace. This should then help to build a climate of trust and ensure decisions on H&S are made quickly and efficiently.
Being proactive will not only benefit employees but owners and shareholders as well. Fewer accidents will occur so fewer man hours will be lost – this helps reduce the related insurance costs, and as I’ve indicated, may well help increase productivity.
Without your business leadership and commitment to create the right culture, it will prove to be very hard, if not impossible, to motivate the employees to play their part. So, the necessary support and expertise from third parties wouldn’t be sought, and H&S would likely be seen as a ‘burden' rather than a real driver for performance.
The arguments for showing leadership in H&S are overwhelming. Not only will it lead to a reduction in numbers of people harmed by work, but it will also lead to a major reduction in cost to businesses and to society. In addition, I would suggest that there’s a major potential for an improvement in motivation and productivity of workplaces – because of the clear and inspirational leadership from the top.
I want to make clear that the Strategy is not about everyone having to put bureaucratic based systems, procedures, checklists and the like, in place. Everyone here knows these systems exist in abundance already. And it’s certainly not what leadership is about.
In a similar vein, H&S management shouldn’t be about paperwork or the elimination of all risk – it’s always been about doing what’s sensible and proportionate – what is ‘reasonably practicable'. It must involve managing risk and then getting on with the task. There is no doubt that management systems can and do provide a good framework for structured and comprehensive management of risks. But, paperwork doesn’t save lives. It’s about what’s practical and useful – I believe this is fundamental to good leadership.
Put simply, H&S is about common sense, personal responsibility and integrity. And by Common Sense, I really do mean doing what makes sense to you, and what makes sense to your members. Decisions need to be explained to others so other people understand why something was done. It’s about not over bureaucratising or trying to eliminate all risk but it is about exercising judgement – as individual leaders – and creating cultures in your members’ businesses where everyone is encouraged to exercise judgement within their areas of responsibility.
This has to include workers – we all want a competent workforce who are trained to exercise judgment, not just people complying with rules and procedures. So, this obviously has some important implications for how you and your members’ staff are trained. H&S is about how people apply the legal framework to the risks in organisations and businesses in a practical and pragmatic way. It’s about building everyone's confidence to exercise judgements and allowing people from across the workforce to think and decide for themselves.
I also want to emphasise that the nature of the debate in Board meetings is crucial to defining the culture of the whole organisation. Very senior directors of large and small companies have often told me that “Safety is their No 1 priority and it’s first on every board agenda”. But I have to say I have never really been convinced! Good H&S management should be a core value but let’s be honest – it’s very unlikely to be the No. 1 priority.
So, leadership comes from actions, not words. One of the greatest risks to leadership integrity arises from "Do as I say, not as I do". The best management systems are those where the Board’s actions are consistent with the instructions given to everyone else.
I cannot overstate the importance I attach to leadership across all sectors, in achieving the goals of the new Strategy.
Obviously every business will have a different risk profile - for some, health issues will be higher on the agenda whether that be related to stress or harm caused by exposure to harmful effects in the workplace. In others, physical safety issues will continue to be the highest priority. Leaders need to determine priorities and focus on those pressing and real risks.
I must also add that the new Strategy makes it clear that we’re looking for an increase in competence to be applied sensibly, proportionately and ethically. By now, you should have guessed that I think leadership should be about focusing on the real risks and people in business should have the confidence not to bother with trivia and unimportant issues.
Without trying to praise the HSE too much – the lead up to, and the months since, the launch has been better than we even I could have hoped. As you know, it's received strong support and commitments from businesses and organisations across the board – to work with us to make sure it happens.
You may also be aware that our decision to make HSE's advice and guidance freely available via the web, has been seen by people as real evidence of our willingness to help people – for example helping SMEs, support managers, employees and H&S professionals in organisations of all sizes who want to do the right thing.
I would also like to mention the fact that some people have questioned our robust statement in the Strategy on the use of enforcement to secure justice. But this is also part of being effective leaders – ensuring that learning is shared as well as holding people to account for their actions. Good leaders are those who support people who do the right thing but take firm action against those who ignore their responsibilities.
In addition to this, I know we need to measure progress with delivery of the Strategy – and I can assure you that we will measure progress and are currently thinking about how we’ll do this. But you will know that we deliberately chose not to include targets and measurement in the Strategy – we wanted people to buy into the principles and goals, and to sign up to be part of the solution first. So when we do measure progress, it will be clear that we’ll be measuring our collective progress, not just HSE's.
As an organisation, HSE’s delivery plans are well advanced and indeed we built them into our 2009/10 Business Plan. My challenge to you is to become more proactive within CBI by:
Thanks for listening and I now look forward to discussing how you and your members will actively engage with us to achieve our goals.