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Loughborough University – Construction – 17 November 2014

Judith Hackitt CBE, HSE Chair

Good morning. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you all today, I was so pleased to be able to accept the invitation as all of you are the future leaders of the construction industry, an industry that is so important not only to us at the Health and Safety Executive but to the UK economy.

Firstly allow me to introduce myself. I am Judith Hackitt, the Chair of the Health and Safety Executive, or HSE. I am a Chemical Engineer by trade and worked for 23 years in chemical manufacturing by joining the CIA, that’s the Chemical Industries Association and not the US Federal Government Agency. I then worked in Brussels for a couple of years before joining the HSE in 2007.

I’ve been asked to cover an overview of what HSE is. Now I know this health and safety module has been running for a few weeks so bits may have been covered off already. So I apologies if I am telling you what you already know.

HSE is Great Britain’s, there is a separate body for Northern Ireland, regulatory body with a mission to prevent death, serious injury and harm to health of workers and of others who may be exposed to risks from work activities.  We do this by providing information and advice, raising awareness, conducting and sponsoring research, promoting training and proposing new laws and standards and enforcing the law. 

We employ about 2,900 people at almost 30 locations across Great Britain and cover onshore major hazard sites, mines, factories, farms, offshore gas and oil installations, the safety of the gas grid and the movement of dangerous goods and substances, as well as construction and many new and emerging strands of economic activity which can pose risk of harm to workers and to the public.

Great Britain has one of the best health and safety records in Europe and fatal accidents have been reduced by over two thirds since the introduction of the landmark Health and Safety at Work etc. Act in 1974. Workplaces have changed significantly in 40 years.  There has been a growth of contracting and small firms, the shift to the service sector and increases in non-conventional working practices and employment relationships. Despite the massive improvement in performance overall, injury and fatality rates in construction, as well as agriculture and waste recycling, remain too high.  Deaths arising from past exposure to asbestos, dusts and chemicals still account for about 95% of all work-related fatalities, and will only be brought under control if those responsible for these risks today – and tomorrow -  recognise the hazards and take action accordingly. 

Our challenge is to utilise everything we have learned over the last 40 years to ensure that we and others are fit for purpose in the present and future. We have set ourselves some demanding targets for simplifying and improving health and safety legislation and information and becoming more efficient.

HSE benefits from a mature relationship with its industry. We have an industry-specific Division which solely deals with the construction sector, with a substantial number of its field force dedicated to construction inspection.

And those inspectors are probably how you see HSE. Those people that come to your site – walk around, usually with the Site Manager – and ensure that the site is fully compliant with the regulations. Our inspectors have a Power of Entry – a warrant – to enter any construction site or work place, at any time, to inspect. These inspectors are not there to close your site down or to burden you with lots of paperwork – they are there to save lives and prevent injury to everyone on site.

The UK construction industry has one of the best health and safety performance records in the world – Health and Safety performance of the industry has seen huge gains in the least 10-15 years – 108 deaths to workers in 2001, for example, compared with 40 in 2012/13. These improvements have largely been seen in the more organised end of the industry – the more organised end tends to be the large construction firms, but does also include the more ‘professional’ smaller firms. Arguably, this is because the more organised end of the industry has embraced the concept of leadership in health and safety – H&S performance is now a key performance indicator for practically all the top 50 contractors. Therefore, our inspection efforts are focused mainly on the smaller sites at the moment.

But there is much more to HSE than simply inspecting sites. We offer guidance and toolkits on our website to help you make sense of health and safety – to guide you through what is required – that guidance has been made simpler over the last few years and it shows you step-by-step what is required. Since we starting focuses on smaller sites we have found that those large construction sites/ companies have started to come to us asking for advice on site – they have actively asked us to come and inspect them as they value the advice we give, they see it as essential to their business.

As well as this HSE continually seeks to exert influence where it is most effective in improving health and safety outcomes. Our strategy for construction therefore includes looking at how those further up the supply chain can play their part in influencing how health and safety plays out further down the supply chain.

In particular, we are interested in improving how designers and clients influence the materials which are used, the sequence of construction and the detailed design of structures to ensure it can be built safely and healthily. This is supported by a regulatory framework which acknowledges the impact of procurement and design decisions, and places legal requirements on clients and designers accordingly.

No doubt, you know all about the Construction and Design Management – or CDM – Regulations. These are the regs that ensure the working conditions are safe before work begins and ensure that the proposed work will not put others at risks.

We are currently revising the CDM Regulations. When the current coalition Government came in to power in 2010 they developed policies very early on to reduce the perceived burden of regulation on all businesses. And the revised CDM regs will help achieve this. But not only are we revising these Regs because Government Policy tell us to, but it makes sense, it’s the right thing to do. The world and the construction industry continues to develop, to change, and we need to change with it.

So what are we changing? We will be substantial simplifying the Regulations to make them easier to navigate and understand, especially for those on site. We will be removing the ACOP – which is the Approved Code of Practise for the Regulations – and replacing it with a suite of more tailored guidance and will be much more effective.

One of the big changes we are making is the removal of the CDM Co-ordinator role, and replacing this role with one called the Principal Designer – This role being much involved in the pre-construction phase. The current approach – with the CDM Coordinator – is often far to bureaucratic and adds considerable cost with little added value. This is a view that the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Association for Project Safety agreed with during our recent consultation. It makes sense that the pre-construction co-ordination should be done within the project team.

It is this element of control which is the fundamental difference between the CDM-Coordinator role and the Principal Designer role. The default position will be that the responsibility for the discharging of the function is within the existing project team, even if the practicalities of co-ordination itself are delegated elsewhere. We expect that moving away from a default position where an external contractor is appointed will deliver considerable economies of scale.

The PD will be responsible for planning, managing, co-ordinating  and monitoring the pre-construction phase of the project in the same way that the PC is responsible for planning, managing and monitoring the construction phase.

In short, we want to realign the way in which the co-ordination function is delivered, and we want it to be seen as an integral business function rather than an externalised add-on.

The revision of CDM will deliver a substantially simpler set of regulations that is easier to understand and comply with, but without watering down physical standards of health and safety on site.

One of the areas that is often forgotten in health and safety is health. Occupational disease is one of the biggest issues facing all business, but especially the construction industry. These are often illnesses that you contract but don’t see any symptoms until year’s later – things such as exposure to asbestos, which can cause mesothemiloma and other cancers – but we also mean other respiratory risks, such as hazardous chemicals, noise, hand arm vibration and physical strain leading to musculoskeletal disorders.

This has to be, and is, one of our primary focuses going forward. You need to know now and as you move into industry how you are going to manage this. It is estimated that 1.2 million working people are suffering a work related illness, 13,000 work related deaths and 535,000 new cases of illness each year. The cost to society is estimated to be ‘double figure’ billions. The latest health and safety stats out a few weeks ago show that past occupational exposure to known and probable carcinogens is estimated to account for about 5% of cancer deaths and 4% of cancer registrations currently occurring each year in Great Britain. This equates to about 8,000 cancer deaths and 13,500 new cancer registrations each year.

HSE has already undertaken successful campaigns and programmes of work to start to tackle ill-health issues such a musculoskeletal disease, noise, and respiratory disease from exposure to chemicals such as isocyanates.  The activity undertaken spans the range of occupational disease areas and uses a number of different approaches.

Our new Beware Asbestos campaign launched in early October and is aimed at helping workers at risk from exposure to asbestos; primarily trades people working on small sites and projects in the construction and maintenance industries. It will;

What is also important about or new asbestos campaign is that we are using different techniques to engage with our target audiences and to get them to change their behaviour rather than simply raising awareness. We undertook a huge amount of work before we launched the campaign to research what would be most effective and e will be evaluating its impact in due course. I think it’s exciting that we are trying new ways to reach the next generations who will be at risk if they don’t know what to do when they find asbestos. It’s rather sad that some seem to want us to hang on to doing things the old way.

Everyone in the construction industry has a role to play, and is responsible for, managing the risks. In 10, 15, 20 years time you will be the leaders in your chosen profession, but it is vital that from now, the moment you enter industry, you show leadership in health and safety and create the right culture within your workplace for managing risk. It is how you will save lives. We are all in the business of managing risks – not eliminating them but identifying new and emerging risks within your industries and ensuring that appropriate measures are put in place where they are needed.

We often find is that senior managers who naturally take the lead in many other aspects of running their business, see health and safety as someone else’s responsibility. That has to change, and you, as future leaders, need to think differently. It needs to be part of how you do business all of the time  and that needs to be clearly understood by everyone, not something that must be done but can be delegated or assumed to be being handled by someone else. 

As you move into industry and progress with your careers, please manage the risks you face sensibly and proportionately. We spend a lot of time dispelling health and safety myth’s, telling people what health and safety is not. Health and Safety is an enabler to business. I said before we do not want to stop you doing things, we need you to keep innovating and building things. You will be working in a dangerous industry, please do not be tempted into the “lids on coffee cups”, “signs on everything” mentality. Personal responsibility is an important part of creating the right culture in the organisation. Focussing on trivial risks and stating the obvious can be a major contributor to cynicism about health and safety .

Updated 2015-02-12