It has been three years since I last spoke at this conference and let me say that it is a great pleasure to be back. Last year Frances Outram, one of HSE's Board member's, joined your conference and spoke to you. Frances' report back was very positive and I must say a special thank you for sending me the latest addition to my miniature bathroom suite. The PLEDGE initiative has received strong support from HSE at all levels. But let me say that this is deservingly so – it continues to be a first class example of an industry accident reduction initiative, and the statistics are impressive.
You now know from Francis Morrall that since launching PLEDGE back in 2001 you have achieved an outstanding reduction in accident rates, absence rates and all injury reduction.
This achievement translates into hundreds of people working in your sector who have not suffered injury at work who would have done were it not for your actions.
Just as I did when I visited three years ago, yesterday I visited three factories and met the teams working there. My impressions from this visit are of a growing commitment to build health and safety into the culture, to make it part of doing business well. But it was also exciting to see businesses which are thriving and growing – providing high quality products to export markets.
In 2009 I referred to your pledge as a, "first class example of leadership, involvement and partnership working - through the active involvement of all those with an interest". Yesterday's site visits made clear to me that this is still very much the case. I also commented in 2009, that the work being done in the ceramics industry was aligned with HSE's strategy, which had been launched that year – PLEDGE member companies had taken ownership of the responsibility for delivering better standards and the British Ceramics Confederation was providing both guidance and support. You had stepped up to become 'Part of the solution'.
Since the launch of our strategy in 2009 we have been working to deliver on the goals that it identified. Over the last two years there has been a spotlight on the health and safety system and a number of Government reviews, reports and recommendations. We are now in the process of implementing changes and reforms to our system. However the guiding principles of the strategy document are still valid and it remains our roadmap for leading the delivery of health and safety. The overarching themes of our approach are proportionality and focus on real risk. As you move into the third phase of your PLEDGE programme I would encourage you to think about how to embed these two themes in your work going forward – a strategic approach is the right way to make this commitment to health and safety truly sustainable.
The close scrutiny which has been applied to our health and safety system has confirmed HSE's long-standing views - paperwork, bureaucracy and over-the-top requirements are not the best way to keep people safe at work. What we really require is sensible and proportionate management of health and safety which makes sense to those affected and who have to work with it. We need an approach that enables us get on with growing the economy rather than something that creates barriers. Health and safety must be integrated into the fabric of good business practice and not be an add-on.
Regulation is being simplified and also rationalised where it is outdated, duplicated or no longer necessary. You may be aware that two sets of regulations affecting your industry were revoked at the beginning of this month. Our aim is to make it easier for business to do what is required, but not to change the standards.
We are working hard to deliver guidance which is much more accessible to the growing number of small businesses. We have seen that health and safety legislation can be over interpreted and wrongly applied – especially in small low risk businesses. And I am again pleased to note that the PLEDGE Board and the health and safety committees of the British Ceramics Federation are helping HSE with our current review of guidance. This again shows leadership in seeking to make sure the right guidance, in the right format, is available for your industry.
Last year we brought out new guidance called "Health and safety made Simple". It is designed to enable small businesses to understand what they have to do and to avoid them being drawn into taking measures which are much more applicable to larger, higher risk businesses. We have recently made available an accompanying online toolbox which provides the means to actually do what is required in a simple and proportionate way. Our firm belief is that by making it simpler to understand we will encourage employers to do what they should be doing and increase levels of compliance.
A refreshed version of 'Managing for Health and Safety' also known as HSG 65 is also due to be published soon. The guidance which is extensively used by directors, managers, health and safety professionals and employee representatives will be improved to aid understanding of the 'who, what, when, where and how' of responsible practice.
Our intention is that 'HSG65' will form part of a set of core guidance covering the fundamentals of health and safety. The set also features, 'Health & Safety made Simple' and 'Controlling risks in the workplace' and has been tailored to fit the needs of individual organisations depending on their level of risk and complexity and also the knowledge of the user.
This same philosophy extends beyond the regulations and guidance, into codes of practice and our approach to inspection and interventions.
Let me be clear about the following:
I'm sure you'll all be aware that our Fee for Intervention (FFI) scheme formally launched on the 1st October.
HSE remains committed to helping and supporting those who are doing, or want to do, the right thing. The former can essentially be left alone to get on with running their businesses, the latter are likely to be looking for help and advice on how to comply.
But, we are equally committed to ensuring that those who choose to ignore or avoid their legal obligations are held to account. Fee for Intervention underlines our approach to differentiating between those like you who are committed to doing the right thing, and those who seek to gain commercial advantage by exposing their employees and the public to unacceptable risks.
The majority of businesses - including those of you in this room today - have no need to worry unduly about this scheme. You are unlikely to have to pay. The costs for the time and effort HSE spends on helping to put matters right through interventions and enforcement action will only be recovered from those who are found to be in serious breach of health and safety laws.
All the essential information and detailed guidance for employers and organisations is available on HSE's website, and we have been working with industry to ensure that the information is shared widely. An appeals process is also in place for any who feel they have been treated unfairly within the new scheme.
HSE will review how FFI is working after the first twelve months of operation, and review reports will be published on HSE's website.
At the beginning of this month I started my second term of appointment as Chair of the HSE. I am sure that none of you would be surprised to hear that I am determined to keep up the efforts to restore the reputation of real health and safety. I have been and will continue to be a persistent critic of dishonest decisions blamed on health and safety, which are actually done for other reasons entirely. I hope by now that it is beginning to dawn on those who wrongly roll out these excuses that they will be challenged, either by HSE, the people they are trying to dupe or the media. A major step in highlighting some of the frankly daft decisions that were being made in the name of health and safety was the launch of our Mythbusters Challenge Panel in April. The panel has reviewed over 100 cases where health and safety was being misused to prevent activities from happening. I believe that this has played a significant part in the progress we are making in getting people to see the difference between real health and safety and the nonsense. If we can gain broader understanding of what real health and safety is all about, it will make all of our jobs much easier. But we can't stop now we all must continue to question those who use health and safety as an excuse.
I am pleased that the PLEDGE board continue to drive the initiative and have been bold in aligning PLEDGE Phase three with the HSE Strategy. You have identified the need for the industry as a whole and individual member companies to be more strategic in their approach to try and maintain the momentum that has developed over the last ten years. And in doing so the industry must strive to maintain the standards they have achieved and continue to focus their effort on helping SMEs.
At HSE we are committed to working to reduce the number workplace accidents and work-related ill health, and industrial diseases. But, illness and disease caused by work is one area where I would like to see us make greater progress.
Achieving significant improvements in health has been difficult for a variety of reasons. Perhaps because the effects on health manifest themselves more slowly than injuries - in some cases decades after the original exposure to harmful substances. It could be that there often isn't a clear dividing line between what damages a person's health at work and what harms a person's health in their lifestyle and personal circumstances. In some cases it may even be because some employers don't regard it as important to manage a risk to an employee's health that will only manifest itself long after they have moved on and left their employment.
Your industry has been at the forefront of controlling ill health arising from exposures to silica and lead. I know that this is a continuing priority - particularly the control of silica exposure. I'm aware that some of the large brick manufacturers are assisting a research programme being conducted by the Health and Safety Laboratory on workers exposure to silica dust. I encourage the leadership you have shown in this area because we really must seek to raise the importance of health to the same level as workplace injuries.
This annual conference continues to provide an excellent opportunity for the industry to celebrate its success and companies to share good practice. The awards are a great motivation for companies and individuals and encourage good work to continue. By changing the awards criteria this year the board have made a clear statement about the need for continuous improvement. Award winners should be proud of your individual achievements but also how this contributes to the bigger picture – raising standards in your industry and the health and safety performance of Great Britain.
I applaud Francis Morrall, Laura Cohen and the BCC for continuing to provide the drive and leadership needed for the industry initiative and for their approach to working with others – employees, unions and HSE. And I also acknowledge the importance of the BCC's efforts in sharing the experiences and practices of this industry sector with other industries via the CHARGE tripartite forum.
So, in summary HSE will deliver on its reform agenda and, in doing so we will create a better health and safety system for Great Britain – the same high standards but easier to understand and to achieve.
But, we need you to keep up the positive momentum that you have created. Keep setting yourselves challenging targets and play your part in demonstrating an approach to health and safety that is proportionate and risk-based. Health and safety is a valuable tool for being competitive, optimising production and achieving manufacturing excellence.
Well done for the outstanding work and the accident, injury and absence reduction that you have achieved so far. Keep up the good work and thank you for inviting me back.