This website uses non-intrusive cookies to improve your user experience. You can visit our cookie privacy page for more information.

SERTUC Conference, London

Judith Hackitt CBE, HSE Chair, 20 November 2009


I am delighted to be invited back for a second year to speak at this South East Regional TUC conference today. When I spoke to you a year ago, I shared with you some of my own personal background which lies at the heart of my strong advocacy for health and safety, and in particular my belief in the need for true workforce engagement for the system to really work.

I also explained some of the thinking behind why HSE had decided to develop a new Strategy, and I gave you some early indications of what the new Strategy would cover ahead of the launch of the consultation process in December last year.

So my intention today is to update you on what has been happening over the past year, particularly in relation to the Strategy. Given that the theme of your conference is healthy workplaces, I will pay particular attention to this area as I take you through the Strategy and in describing what I see ahead for us in HSE and for improving the performance of the whole health and safety system.


So, let's start with the Strategy. The draft was launched in December last year and was followed during January by a series of consultation workshops up and down the country, which were attended by more than 800 people in total. The overriding message from those workshops was one of support for the new Strategy. There was a good deal of debate and discussion among the wide range of stakeholders involved, but on the key points and principles of the Strategy there was no disagreement.

There was strong support for our Mission Statement - the prevention of death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work activities. Many, many people commented favourably on the fact that the Strategy covered the whole health and safety system, not just the role of the regulator. Our call to others to join us and become part of the solution has met with an extraordinary response - over 1000 organisations have signed up to a pledge to work with us. Several organisations have already produced work-plans describing what they will do to support delivery of the Strategy. I am delighted that the TUC is one of the bodies who has produced such a plan, but I am also greatly encouraged to see just how diverse the organisations are who have produced such plans. Only 2 weeks ago I participated in events involving the Ceramics industry and the Motor Vehicle Repair industry, both of whom were reviewing their health and safety activities to align with, and support, delivery of the Strategy.

The new Strategy is very clear about the need to define respective roles and responsibilities. There is no better place to start with this than the role of HSE and its co-regulator Partners in local authorities. Our role is to:

Let me, at this point, expand on 3 of these:

Some people have questioned our robust statement in the Strategy on the use of enforcement to secure justice. But we should make no apology for the use of enforcement measures to secure compliance from those who seek to avoid and overlook their responsibilities. This is part of us demonstrating our leadership - ensuring that lessons are learned as well as holding people to account for their actions. We can support those who want to do the right thing but we must take firm action against those who choose not to or fail to do so.

One action we have already taken which has been very well received is the decision to make HSE's advice and guidance freely available to all via the web - it's a clear demonstration of our commitment to help people - SMEs, and managers and health and safety professionals in all organisations who want to do the right thing.

Thirdly, I want to say something about our campaigns. Regardless of the views of the Advertising Standards Authority, I for one, am very proud of the campaign that we have run over the last year on Asbestos and which we have, in the last few weeks, re-launched.

Just over 2 weeks ago, HSE and ONS published the latest statistics for 2008/09 Health and Safety performance in Great Britain. There was indeed some good news in those statistics. But what the statistics also showed us very clearly was the continued toll of suffering caused by work place ill-health and asbestos in particular.

Asbestos remains the single biggest killer, claiming more than 4000 lives a year. We have good reason to believe that this number will start to fall off within the next decade, reflecting the changes in working conditions and practices now. But nonetheless I find it extraordinary that anyone should go the lengths of mounting a challenge via the Advertising Standards Authority for a campaign aimed at warning today's generation of craftsmen that the problem is still there.

I would like to place on record my sincere thanks to the TUC for supporting our original campaign. I know we are doing the right thing in going ahead with this second campaign. We owe it to those thousands of victims and their families to ensure this terrible legacy is not passed on to the next generation.

There are a few more things I'd like to say about the Strategy:

Strong leadership, workforce involvement and a common sense approach to health and safety in the workplace are key to an effective health and safety system - in any and every organisation.

Leadership is fundamental to everything else because it literally sets the tone for whether health and safety happens - or not - and the spirit in which it is undertaken.

Leaders will decide whether health and safety is managed because it makes good business sense, because it increases motivation and productivity in the workforce, because you care about the people you employ. Or that health and safety is about bureaucracy, paperwork and procedures or even worse, is a constant battleground between management and workforce.

We in Great Britain have not got to a position of world leading performance in health and safety by generating paperwork and fighting battles in the workplace. I believe it has been achieved, in the majority of workplaces, by managers and workforces working together. The challenges we now face and which are clear in the Strategy are to make this fit in 21st Century workplaces and drive home the message in those organisations who still don't get it.

Worker involvement and consultation is important in every organisation - where trades unions are present and where they are not and in all organisations irrespective of their size or dispersal of work locations.

Worker Involvement

Prior to the launch of the Strategy, HSE published new guidance on workforce involvement, making a commitment to fund some new pilot projects to encourage workforce involvement. This includes joint training programmes for managers and safety representatives.

HSE's Worker Involvement and Inclusion Team are currently working in partnership with Construction Skills and Pro Skills to deliver subsidised training courses - with input from trades unions and other industry experts, and although we're still in the early days, there has been very good progress to date. The pilot courses will run for the rest of this year and early next year, with the view to launching a full package of initiatives soon after. They will be supported by a communications campaign promoting the benefits, with the assistance of our Local Authority partners.

I want to discuss the state of play with the two current pilots:

The first one is the Construction Skills pilot, which is expected to commence early in the New Year in the North West - aimed at new and non-Unionised safety representatives, especially in SMEs - and aims to test two types of delivery. The first is a site-based course which is being held on a major construction project. It involves 4 half-day sessions, with 8 facilitated ancillary 'follow-on' training courses. The second approach comprises a standalone regional open course of the same 4 module sessions, but where delegates will develop action plans to implement on their return to their organisations, and doesn't include the follow up sessions. This will enable us to evaluate the two different approaches, to learn how to attract participants and test the ability of Principal contractors to get their sub-contractors engaged.

The second pilot, currently being run in partnership with Pro Skills, and involving Unite and GMB, is aimed at manufacturing sector employers across the whole country. It focuses on 'joint first line manager' and 'health and safety representative' training for unionised and non-unionised organisations where there's a need to develop worker involvement arrangements further. Specifically, the pilot will test methods of improving the working relationship between safety representatives and first line managers.

So far, there are a significant number of employers in the Paper, Print, Extractives and Glass manufacturing sub-sectors who wish to participate; and Trades Unions are very supportive of the pilots, and I believe we will learn a lot about how to take this work forward.

Both the pilots will be subject to an independent evaluation to measure their ability to meet training needs; effectively market to participants; attendee numbers; and the usefulness of the courses assessed by participants.

Estates Excellence

I have also mentioned the need to adapt our approaches to fit the type of workplaces we have in Great Britain today. One example of this is our "Estates Excellence" project where the piloting work is taking place here in the South East.

A key stakeholder conference - held in February this year - developed the idea of Estates Excellence. This Programme includes HSE and our partners running on-site training courses and workshops.

The idea is to bring businesses on industrial estates together to share ideas, expertise and best practice. It maybe that this includes sharing those ideas that were thought to be good at the time, but which have not worked so well - there really is no need for everyone to learn lessons the hard way, especially in health and safety. And, as you may be aware, a number of industrial estates across the South East were chosen as pilots - Medway, Arun, Cherwell, Southampton, Swale and Slough.

I know that SERTUC has been engaged in the development of the Programme. In addition, John Ball, who has organised this conference, represents SERTUC on both the Project Board and Working Group. I am also aware that some of HSE's key partners are heavily involved in this, including Kent's Fire and Rescue, as well as Kent County Council and Medway Council - who are all involved in the Medway trial.

Using the "Tool Kit" available to identify knowledge gaps and key risks in the businesses, site visits can be carried out under the Estates Excellence project banner by relevant bodies, for example the Fire Authority or internal County Council employees.

The Programme, then, really is an excellent illustration of local delivery of common sense risk management through key partnership between HSE, our Local Authority co-regulators and businesses - all of which helps to build competence and improve worker involvement, and which also recognises the realities of how workplaces are organised and situated today.

I now want to focus now on what the Strategy has to say about the health element of health and safety.

Whilst there are some similarities in dealing with workplace health issues and safety issues there are also some important differences. Our goals in creating better workplaces for everyone therefore are:


We have also made it clear in the Strategy that we need to ensure that organisations focus on work related health matters as well as safety. Every organisation will have its own risk profile which is the starting point for determining which groups of workers are most at risk, and what the nature of the hazards are in that organisation. It is clear that in some organisation the risks will be tangible and immediate safety hazards, whereas in other organisations the risks may be more health-related and may be longer term but are certainly no less important because of that.

HSE can and does offer advice and guidance on numerous specific topics related to workplace health.

I've already mentioned our campaigning work on asbestos, but we also provide guidance on managing stress in the workplace, on dealing with risks which cause Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs), on workplace noise which leads to hearing loss, an exposure to dusts which can lead to Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). The list of potential workplace health risks is a long one. But here, just as with safety, is where we need to be clear about the role of the regulator and the roles of others.

It is for every organisation to identify the nature of the health risks which exist in that organisation. In some places, most likely office based environments, the greatest health risk may well be stress, but in others, it will be dust or exposure to some other cause of harm.

Health, just like safety, has to be managed and led by those who create the risk in the first place. I think it is only reasonable that we acknowledge that health can be more difficult to manage than safety.

Health risks may take much longer to manifest themselves. The causes of ill health may not be immediately obvious, sometimes they may have their origins in or be exacerbated by factors which occur outside of work. But "because its more difficult" is no excuse for taking no action. There are some very practical things which every organisation can and should be doing.

Perhaps the most obvious - after risk profiling what the hazards in any given workplace might be - is to look at causes of ill health and sickness absence among the workforce. If the workplace is a contributory factor in ill health then its unlikely that only one member of the workforce will be suffering - telltale patterns of incidences of ill health which could have a workplace connection provide useful pointers to what needs to be looked at - and managed.

We know that more than 2 million people suffer from illness which is in some way attributed to current or past work. Of the 29.3 million working days lost in a typical year (2008/09), around 24.6 million are estimated to be caused by work related ill health. Quite apart from the direct suffering to individuals and the emotional toll on them and their families and friends, the business case for tackling work related ill health is compelling.

This is increased is the current challenging financial times, across the public and private sectors. The pressure to do more with fewer resources and less people is real and it may increase some of the risks of ill-health - especially stress. But sickness absence represents a huge cost - loss of productivity, experience and expertise, cost of temporary cover and the knock-on opportunity cost of services which simply cannot be delivered as a result of staff absence. Just as with safety, the best approach to ill health is prevention.

Tackling health is, therefore, as important as tackling safety, and addressing health and safety is a fundamental and integral part of the much wider agenda aimed at protecting people from harm. That way we deliver benefit not just to individuals but to society as a whole.

It is clear that we must 'raise the game' on health but we must make it relevant to the wide variety of workplaces which exist.

Just as with every element of the Strategy our task is to ensure that we focus on the real and specific risks and tailor the approach to suit the risk profile, the workplace, the workforce and so on. The only way we can do that is for us all to play our part.

The most encouraging thing about the Strategy for me is the level of support and willingness to get involved, which we have seen from so many stakeholders. I am delighted at the level of support we have seen from the Trades Unions, and I hope that you are encouraged by the progress I have reported to you today.

Thank you again for inviting me back for a second time. I look forward to responding to your questions in the panel session.

Updated 2009-11-23