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Airport Operators Association Conference, Leeds

Judith Hackitt CBE, HSE Chair, 22 June 2009

Thank you for the invitation to speak at your conference today. I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to you about the new journey we have embarked upon for Health and Safety in Great Britain in the 21st Century and to explore what this means for the organisations represented here today involved in Airport Operations.

When I became Chair of HSC only a year and a half ago I had some ideas about what I wanted to achieve in relation to the Health and Safety System in Great Britain. We have already made progress over that period but we have also encountered some new challenges which we have had to take into account – not least economic recession.

My own background includes more than 20 years working in the chemical industry. I chose to take on this role because I believe that every member of every workforce has a fundamental right to work in an environment where health and safety risks are properly controlled. If that can be done in some workplaces – and it is – then it can be done in all. Every organisation has a different culture, and a different risk profile but the principles of effective health and safety are the same everywhere.

The Health and Safety Executive has a very clear mission – the prevention of death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work activities. But it is not only our mission – it is one which we all share. It is the mission of our new strategy for Health and Safety in Great Britain in the 21st Century which we launched in London on 3 June and which I want to talk about today.

I am very much aware that in the case of Airport Operations, there are a number of unique interfaces which make clarity about roles and responsibilities particularly important to bottom out. Depending upon whether we are talking about landside or airside, and on or off planes will determine whether you regard your regulator as being local authority, HSE or CAA. While these distinctions are important up to a point, it should certainly not be the case that they give rise to different principles or standards or that air safety is considered so important that other important safety issues get overlooked or ignored.

HSE’s new strategy makes it very clear that we all have important roles to play in delivering health and safety. It is HSE’s role to set the strategic direction and lead the workplace health and safety system as a whole. We inspect, we investigate and enforce; we also conduct research, introduce new or revised regulations when needed, we alert dutyholders to new risks, we provide advice and guidance and we promote training. Investigation and securing justice are integral to preventing death, injury and ill health caused by work because the aims are to learn lessons, change bad practices and replace them with better practices as well as ensuring that dutyholders are held to account for the actions.

But the strategy also makes it clear what we and our co-regulator partners are not responsible for and where those responsibilities do lie. Health and safety leadership must come from the top – in every organisation. Those who create the risks in whatever type of work are not only “best placed” to manage them but have a moral and legal duty to manage them to protect those they employ and those who are affected by those work activities. Leadership means not only saying that health and safety is important but demonstrating that commitment by action on a consistent and persistent basis.

In complex operations such as airports the need for that leadership approach to be consistent is very important. We believe that our new strategy and the call for leadership provides a great opportunity to take a fresh look at airport health and safety matters and to really figure out an effective, fit for purpose, proportionate way forward.

I would like to touch upon all of the key elements of the strategy and then explore what I believe to be the key ones in relation to Airport Operators.

We set out to produce a strategy that would be resilient to the many ways in which the environment in which we all operate continues to change. Economic cycles are no exception to that – risks may change with varying economic activity but the commitment to protect workers and the public and to prevent harm is constant and perennial.

Our goals in the final version of the strategy remain largely unchanged from the draft version on which we engaged in widespread consultation. HSE and our LA partners take the lead on investigations and securing justice but it is important to recognise that this work is integral to prevention of harm and injury not just in holding people to account for their actions.

Our consultation process underlined the importance of strong leadership and indeed in a recent survey which we carried out more than 9 out of 10 business leaders acknowledged that strong leadership is essential for effective health and safety management. But there is a difference between what business leaders say they know is important and what they do. Now we need 9 out of 10 business leaders to actually get out of their boardrooms and demonstrate leadership by example! Only then will we really make a difference in health and safety performance.

Our strategy makes it clear that building competence is important if people are to make good common sense decisions on health and safety. Building competence applies to everyone in the system – not just to those who are regarded as health and safety professionals or experts but to directors, line managers and the workforce more generally. Good progress is already being made in this area in dialogue with key bodies such as the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health and the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management and we look forward to taking this forward. We want to develop a competence framework which recognises not just knowledge but the ability to apply that knowledge proportionately.

We have already started to think about ways in which we in HSE can promote greater workforce involvement throughout unionised and non-unionised workplaces and ones where employment patterns may be complex and include many service providers as well as direct employees.

Prioritising the key areas on which to focus is an activity which we will be encouraging all dutyholders to take up. It is clear that for some organisations there will be greater emphasis on health issues and in others it will be on those activities which cause injury and even death. Quite clearly for airports this is also an area of interfacing operations which I will come back to later.

Our commitment to finding new ways to help SMEs achieve compliance has been widely welcomed. We were particularly pleased to be able to announce last week that over £1 million worth of our current paid for publications will be made freely available via our website. We were asked by many people to look at this and we see it as a very important move which will help not only SMEs, but safety reps and many others including large organisations to gain free access to HSE guidance and advice.

HSE’s remit is wide and covers virtually all workplaces in Great Britain from SMEs to large and highly specialised industries. There is no doubt that the strategic economic importance of some of these sectors will continue to require us to work with those industries to reduce the potential for low frequency, high impact events. Whilst in the main, this goal applies to high hazard manufacturing installations, it is also applicable to some important airport operations such as fuel storage activities. It typifies the need for us to see our role and that of Health and Safety in the broader context.  That broader context also needs to take due account of the important role of the international regulatory agenda alongside other business regulation and such issues as security.

So, having considered the main elements of HSE’s new strategy, let me now turn to what I believe this means for airport operators and how we can collectively take this forward.

It is entirely understandable that the major emphasis in air transport is and has always been on flight and passenger safety.  You are subject to international regulation and commercial agreements. Security and environmental pressures are also very high on the agenda as they should be.

But it cannot be the case that these high priority subjects result in employee and contractor/service provider safety being allowed to drop off the radar screen altogether. We are aware anecdotally of one health and safety manager at one airport who was actually told by his managers ‘not to bother’ with risk assessments as employee health and safety was a risk they could afford to take! So we know that employee health and safety is not being taken as seriously as it should be in some places.

We also know that serious health and safety incidents can and do happen at airports. A couple of examples which have occurred in the last few weeks include a successful prosecution which followed an incident where a worker fell from height at Heathrow and a fatality which occurred to a member of the public after a collision with an airport vehicle.

Sadly, even in new airport design we see little evidence of consideration being given to the health and safety of third party workers, design of roadways and pedestrian segregation.

The extent of contractorisation within airports serves to complicate matters. The best health and safety efforts of contractors and service partners engaged in ground handling can often be put under great pressure by the processes and procedures imposed by airports and airlines.

There are some significant organisations here today who have potentially very important roles to play in leading a new approach to all aspects of health and safety in airports.

The Airport Operators Association itself is the trade association which represents the interests of British airports. The best trade associations in any sector are those which not only act as the voice of their members but also use their unique position to lead and influence its members in areas where the sector needs to improve. We have seen good verbal support from AOA on some HSE initiatives in the past but it would be even better this time around if we could see that verbal support translated into practical action and influence on member organisations.

I am delighted to see that BAA have signed up to HSE’s pledge which was launched at the same time as the new strategy. More than 500 organisations have now responded to our challenge to sign up to work with us to improve health and safety performance and I am pleased that BAA is one of them. We would welcome a similar commitment from other airport groups and from AOA.

There are 30 major airports in the UK with an estimated workforce comprising service providers of ~ 49,000 and another 92,000 employed in the wider context around airports. In the 3 years up to April 2008 there have been 2 fatalities and in each year more than 1500 > 3 day reportable injuries. There are around 400 incidents a year involving cargo handling of which a significant proportion are linked to airports and the number of incidents has been increasing since 2005.

It is not enough for the individual employers of all of these people to handle health and safety in isolation from one another. One company is likely to see baggage handling as a top health and safety priority whereas another will see airside vehicle movements as the major risk.

Airport authorities are much more than just ‘landlords’ to a host of activities which take place on their site. Our belief and hope is that they should take the lead for the whole community.  They are well placed to set good practice standards for all airport users. They can also bring all of the key stakeholders together to consider the many and various interfaces and to look at the entire risk profile of the airport.

The way forward in your sector has to lie in a fully integrated approach.

  1. Integrated in the sense that all aspects of health, safety and security, airside and landside are given proper priority and managed consistently without gaps
  2. and integrated in the sense that all employers work together to set standards and agree consistent approaches.

It is clear to me that this is a mature and innovative industry. It is one where there is an in-built safety culture albeit very much focussed on air passenger safety. You have the skills to extend that knowledge and experience to improving health and safety among your own ground based employees and service partners. It doesn’t need to be burdensome. This is not a question of diverting time and attention to workforce health and safety at the expense of passenger safety and security – it isn’t a trade-off. What’s required is a comprehensive and integrated approach which builds a consistent health and safety culture throughout all organisations involved at any one facility.

We believe that the themes of Leadership, Worker Involvement and Health and Safety in the wider context are the key elements of the new strategy where we need to work together to agree a delivery plan for airports but without doubt leadership is the most important. This is about common sense, proportionality and building a more comprehensive and integral health and safety culture across the whole piece which will be good for business as a whole. Increased productivity, efficiency and morale will come out of this new approach. The current difficult economic climate makes an even stronger case for rethinking the full spectrum of health and safety issues and working together to address them.

We stand ready to help you, support you, offer advice and guidance, but we will also not hesitate to take enforcement action against those who ignore the rules or do not give sufficient priority to workforce and workplace risks. We are clear on our role but we need your help, your support, your commitment and above all your individual and collective leadership.

Be part of the solution – with us but very much for your benefit and for business success.

Enjoy your conference.

Updated 2009-06-25