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Inaugural meeting of IOSH's Staffordshire Branch – 18 February 2016

Dame Judith Hackitt DBE, HSE Chair

‘Helping Britain work well – a new strategy for the health and safety system’

Good evening and thank you for the honour of inviting me to speak at the inaugural meeting of the IOSH Staffordshire branch. I always enjoy the opportunity to meet IOSH members and I look forward to hearing your thoughts during the evening.

The main focus of my talk will be looking to the future of health and safety – and this is a very opportune moment to do so, for reasons that will become clear. First though I would like to give a little context as to where things stand today and – from a personal perspective – how my own career has been inextricably linked with health and safety both before and during my time as Chair of HSE.

My background

My working career began back in 1975. Having graduated from Imperial College in Chemical Engineering, I entered the petrochemical industry to put what I had learnt into practice. I went to work for Exxon at Fawley and it was an exciting place to be – exciting because of its complexity, because of the strong work ethic but also the commitment to the importance of what we were doing. And also because everyone clearly recognised there was a serious responsibility to do what we were doing safely.

As I drove into Fawley every day I was met by a large sign painted on the side of an oil storage tank which told me (and everyone else who entered through that gate) that “You are responsible for safety on this site”. But it was about much more than slogans and signs. Safety truly was embedded in every facet of everyone’s role on the site. Many of the good practices instilled in me during my early days are still relevant - and I would dearly love to see some of them introduced into a number of industries today, in an appropriate way.

As my career developed, I knew the approach that I needed to take – and enable others to take – when I became Operations Director of a top tier COMAH site – COMAH stands for Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations. The key point about my early training was that managing risk and ensuring safety was an integral part of every role I was appointed to – my responsibilities were clear and so were everyone else’s, we all understood that.

This stood me in good stead for subsequent roles later in my career that included being Director General of the Chemical Industries Association and President of the Institute of Chemical Engineers.


I became Chair of the Health and Safety Commission in 2007, then of HSE when the organisations merged in April 2008. It has been challenging, but everything worth doing always is. In common with many organisations across the public and private sectors, we have had to look hard at where our priorities lie and ensure we remain an effective organisation, whilst living within our means. We have done this, and I am immensely proud to have led the organisation for the last 8 years. An organisation that has helped the UK achieve amongst the best health and safety records in the world, on a consistent basis.

Key factors to this success include the philosophy in the health and safety at work act that ‘those who create risks are best placed to manage them’. HSE’s highly skilled workforce of different disciplines is another key factor – inspectors, policy makers and researchers; communicators, specialists and others – all feeding into the organisation’s knowledge base on what works, what to target and where improvement is needed – either within HSE, by industry or both. I retire from HSE at the end of March, and will be taking up the post of Chair of the manufacturers’ organisation EEF in April. So I hope that gives you some perspective on my career in industry and its links to today on health and safety.


Focusing on this new IOSH branch’s area of Staffordshire, it is a county with a long and proud industrial and commercial history. It is most notably associated with the pottery industry, but also with a range of other industries. JCB being one of the county’s famed companies.

My most recent visit was to the British Ceramics Confederation where, since the start of an initiative in 2001 there has been a 75% injury rate reduction. This is what happens when an industry gets together to solve health and safety issues, and is something we are looking to see replicated in the new health and safety system strategy that I want to tell you about.

Helping Great Britain Work Well

It will be called ‘Helping Great Britain work well’ and it is a strategy for the whole system, not just HSE. We recently held a series of events across Great Britain that allowed us to connect directly with hundreds of key stakeholders, whilst engaging with thousands more through social media. Workers, employers, health and safety professionals and others have vital roles to play in shaping and delivering the strategy.

All of us in this room are part of the health and safety system that has developed over the last 40 years. We can be rightly proud of our achievements to date. Our successes are however of little comfort to those mourning the loss of their loved ones through a work related death. Let us also remember that work related death to most of us is measured in fatalities which occur in the workplace, but to many more it also means loved ones who have died early as a result of a chronic and life shortening illness which has been caused by work. We know we can, and that we must, make it even better – and doing that in a proportionate and sensible way is the challenge.

Three overarching aspects

Better does not always mean doing more. It’s about identifying and managing real risks more intelligently. 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.

There are three overarching aspects to the strategy:

Six key themes

Six key themes have been created to focus issues that can help deliver on ownership, health and boosting Britain’s businesses. I will give you a flavour of why each of these themes is important to tackle.

Acting together

The first theme is ‘Acting together’:
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 here in Staffordshire and the rest of Great Britain.

The key challenge of the strategy is to make people feel they own the health and safety system and realise they have a vital role in improving it. As health and safety professionals you are most likely to be the ones to whom health and safety responsibilities pass, but everybody who can influence health and safety has an active part to play in implementing the new strategy and in making it really come alive. You need to help identify the most important challenges and develop ways of taking collective ownership. That includes taking a good hard look at whether our individual contributions help people and businesses without causing unnecessary cost or inefficiency. We all care passionately about keeping people safe and well, but ownership will be key to success.

Ownership also requires Leadership from the top of an organisation – without this we will not achieve sustainable and effective health and safety, because the health and safety mind-set is about the culture and tone of the whole organisation – not about meeting regulatory requirements set by someone else. Organisations who are true leaders in health and safety really believe that everyone who works in that organisation matters and should go home at the end of every day unharmed by their work. And I do mean everyone – contractors and temporary employees matter just as much as anyone else.

Tackling Ill-health

The next strategy theme is Tackling ill-health:
Making Britain work well is not just a slogan - it marks a deliberate shift to ensuring that we look after workers’ health. We owe it to every worker to get them home as healthy as they were when they started their working day and this strategy will help us all focus on achieving that. Tackling work-related ill health makes a key contribution to Britain’s well-being and prosperity.

Significant progress has been made on safety, but management of health risks has lagged. Work related ill-health is a problem for every section of society. Solving it requires action across all business sectors. It ranges from the long latency hazards that can lead to cancer and other diseases, to stress and musculo-skeletal disorders. The drive must come from all those with a stake in keeping people healthy and fit for work

Occupational cancer continues to be a long term threat to the welfare of workers. There are 8,000 deaths a year in the UK as a result of occupational cancers. This far outstrips the numbers that die due to accidents at work. A lot of work has been done on tackling occupational cancer, including IOSH’s No Time to Lose campaign, and with 14,000 new cases of occupational cancer being registered each year there is still a lot to do if we are to avoid more unnecessary deaths.

Physical ill-health is not the only area where health and safety strategies can make improvements. Stress and anxiety are responsible for 20% of last year’s self-reported work-related illnesses. The culture of some industry sectors make recognition of work related stress quite challenging, but it is often present because of work pressures or factors such as poor or ineffective management.

Part of our strategy is to highlight and tackle the burden of ill health and this is certainly a major challenge we all face. In 2014/15 a massive 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. This corresponds to a significant burden to benefits system – especially disability benefit in the over 50s, where each year more than 2.5 million people claim health-related benefits, costing the UK £12 billion a year.

Britain’s well-being and prosperity depend on better managing work-related ill health. Some 23 million working days are lost each year through work-related ill-health. The annual costs to Britain are estimated at £9bn. Nine billion pounds. And that’s in addition to the costs from ill-health problems due to working conditions in the past.

There are other costs, too. By far the largest element in your employer’s liability insurance premium will be related to long tail liability – that means work related health issues that may have a long latency, so by demonstrating that you are managing things well, premiums are more likely to reduce through good practice on work related health.

Tackling work related ill health can make a huge contribution to Great Britain’s well-being and prosperity. Work-related ill health affects every section of society and accounts for double the working days lost to safety. Dealing with this issue will require action across all business sectors, and all those in the health and safety system have a role to play in keeping people healthy and fit for work.

Saving on the cost of employee accidents and ill health is not only an investment in the future of a business – it will also yield benefits in the short term. Showing the workforce that you care about their health and well-being now and for the long term boosts productivity and motivation, leading to less sick leave and greater worker retention.

Some companies have been tackling ill health for a while now, for example a 2011 IOSH report shows that E.On saved a staggering £12m through its occupational health strategy in just one year. This isn’t an isolated incident, with employers ranging from city councils to engineering firms also saving millions of pounds using effective strategies for health and safety.

Supporting small employers

The next strategy theme I will cover is supporting small employers:
Small and Medium-sized Enterprises are fundamental to the UK economy, accounting for half of the UKs private sector turnover, and more than half of the UKs private sector employment figures. 14 million people are employed within the SME sector and engagement with SME employers is vital.

We have been talking to small employers and their representatives as part of our strategy engagement, specifically engaging on what issues they face and what help they need. Over the last few years we have been working on simplifying and removing out-dated or unnecessary regulation, simplifying guidance, producing straightforward tools and examples to assist small businesses. The overarching goal we’re working toward is to make it easier for businesses to do what is required without lowering standards.

Supporting small employers is still an area where significant challenges remain. Reaching all SMEs can be difficult – but not impossible. The best large businesses and intermediaries are already gaining more efficient supply chains and productive relationships by pointing the SMEs they deal with in the right direction without imposing the need for over complicated advice or unnecessary barriers and costs to doing business.

We also need to make Britain’s huge number of SMEs aware that they can access proportionate advice and guidance focused on their needs which will help keep their customers and staff safe, and help them protect and grow their business. HSE makes all of its guidance available free online and has been improving its website to provide more accessible advice for SMEs. We have also developed different risk assessment tools covering a wide range of work places including manufacturing and retail settings and are working with SMEs for our Safe & Sound at work campaign.

Health and safety professionals have a particular role to play here. Helping a small company get it right in an efficient and effective way is good you as well as good for your clients. 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.

Managing risk well

This leads nicely into the next strategy theme - Managing risk well:
Looking at the issue of “risk” from my current perspective as Chair of HSE, I see very clearly the need for a much more integrated and holistic approach to risk management. I spend a good deal of my time talking to Boards and senior managers in companies, explaining why doing good health and safety is about good business practice, not about business cost and the so-called burden of regulation. All too often I see the silo mentality which leads to the poor health and safety manager feeling responsible for everything to do with health and safety rather than the risks and the potentially devastating consequences being recognised and owned by the most senior leadership of the organisation. It is equally clear to me that those companies who are good at health and safety are good because their Boards and senior managements do get it. That doesn’t mean they’re health and safety zealots – far from it – the good companies are the ones who understand all of the risks in their organisation and have a good understanding of those that present the biggest threat.

Companies who manage risk well also know how to prioritise and to discern the issues that really matter. They also know how to take proportionate action, which makes sense to everyone in the organisation. But this is only possible if they have a good purview of all of the risks and their interconnectedness. Boards can only do this if they are well informed and have a consistency of language and thinking across the organisation; this very much requires an "Executive Voice of Risk", whether it is present in one individual or a common language and set of values across the whole organisation – a culture.

All too often risk management is misinterpreted as being about risk elimination or risk aversion – let us be clear it is neither of these things. Good and proportionate risk management and risk leadership are essential if companies are to be successful in innovating and surviving in a rapidly changing and increasingly complex world. Risk taking is an essential element of any enterprise – the key is to understanding what those risks are, those that can – and should - be mitigated at the outset, those that can’t and what the consequences might be if those risks do materialise versus the benefits if they don’t.

Health and safety professionals must step outside of their own “bubble” and recognise that there is a need for pragmatism and realism – good proportionate health and safety delivers productivity, growth and business success. This is a language we all need to learn and speak.

Well-intentioned but sometimes ill-informed advice to small, low risk business is a key area which needs to change. It is in all of our interests, businesses and regulators alike, 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.

Managing the right risks in the wrong way can be just as wasteful, and focussing on the wrong priorities because they are less challenging is another trap we need to lay bare.

Good health and safety outcomes also have a positive impact on an employer’s reputation, just as a failure to get health and safety right can have a disastrous impact on their reputation and potentially even risk the survival of their business.

As you will know from the IOSH UK Li£e Savings campaign, the benefits of health and safety go beyond keeping workforces healthy and safe and staying on the right side of the law. Businesses can benefit from reduced insurance premiums, improved staff productivity and retention, an increase in worker motivation and a corresponding improvement in the quality of their work.

Keeping pace with change

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. We are already using our world-leading research capabilities to increase our own efficiency and targeting, as well as helping companies and other regulators here 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.

There is a need for us all to continually adapt – to look at our environment, our performance, our technologies and so on and make sure that we are reflecting this is in our policies and practices as regulators, businesses and professional associations. Only by doing this will we both learn from the past and ensure continued improvement and prosperity for the future.

Sharing our success

The final theme is about 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.

This can help project British influence overseas and through promoting our goal-based approach, making it easier for British businesses to expand into new markets and territories, which is in all of our interests. One of the reasons for HSE’s close working relationship with IOSH is because we share an ambition to make our respective knowledge and expertise available to others around the world. But we must remember that our role is to enable – not to dictate.

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 Health and Safety at Work Act. Workplaces have changed significantly in the four decades that have followed. 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.

We need to be asking: what are we doing well and how can we share it? Could you help another business by mentoring or providing advice? How can we spread the message abroad, but also, are there things we can learn from other countries – and could we share them?

We know what we are asking is not easy, neither for ourselves nor for you. If it was we would have done it already! But what we have to gain is worth the effort and more. A healthy workforce that feels valued by their employers, reduced public expense dealing with unnecessary ill health, an economy bolstered by fewer days lost to ill-health, and business sectors boosted by improved staff retention. These are achievable goals if we work together. Us as the regulator, you as health and safety professionals, and the rest of the system can make the difference that is needed to make Britain work well.

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.

WE have a great story to tell so far and it isn’t over yet. We can be even better but we will only do that by being smarter not by doing more and not by corralling health and safety into its own area of specialism – it has to be integrated into business and into everyone’s role in every business.

Thank you

Thank you for inviting me to join you here today, at the first meeting of IOSH’s Staffordshire Branch. It’s an exciting period for you, and for the health and safety system of the nation. I wish you every success in play your parts in helping Great Britain work well.

Updated 2016-03-29