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STUC Conference speech

Judith Hackitt CBE, HSE Chair, Inverness on 23 April 2008

I am delighted to have been invited to take part in the Scottish Trades Union Congress 2008 and to be here with you in Inverness.

This is an exciting time to be involved in Health and Safety and I would like to take this opportunity to talk briefly about some of the broader challenges which lie ahead of us and also to focus more specifically on how we plan to work with our key partners here in Scotland.

From 1st April 2008, HSE and HSC merged to become the new Health and Safety Executive with the members of the former Commission now non-Executive directors of the new Board of HSE. So I am now the Chair of HSE and along with the new Board we have taken on extensive new responsibilities for the overall governance of HSE as well as continuing to set policy for the organisation. We will be able to ensure stronger links between strategy and delivery to provide the level of accountability and performance management rightly expected of a public body in the 21st Century.

The Board continues to retain its important balance of interests including both Trades Unions and geographical cover including of course Scotland.

The world of work which we regulate continues to change in many different ways – growth in the number of SMEs, growth in numbers of migrant workers employed are both examples of some of the newer challenges we face; whilst the need to continue to focus on longstanding issues such as health and safety performance in sectors like Agriculture, Construction and Offshore remain. We also operate in an era where public perception of health and safety may be very different from that which we have. We exist to save lives and stop injury and illness to employees and the public caused by workplace activity. All too often we, or rather  “elf n safety” is used by the public and the media as an excuse which it is very convenient to hide behind for not doing things which should go ahead if we were all taking a sensible approach to life and to risk. Sadly, that use of Health and Safety as an excuse for not doing things can also sometimes stray into a handful of workplaces as well. I recently explained to a conference of Teachers’ unions that I was saddened that health and safety was being used as a reason to ban school trips which we should all regard as an important element of preparing young people for life, the world of work and dealing with all sorts of risk that they will encounter because life will not and cannot be made risk free.

Over the next six months or so HSE will be developing a new strategy for Health and Safety in GB and HSE’s role in delivering that. We will endeavour to take account of the many changing factors around us but the input of all of our stakeholders will be important and we look forward to coming back to Scotland in the early Autumn to seek your views on our proposed strategy.

The changing economic and social environment in Scotland calls for the need for us to be proactive and responsive to Scottish needs. Despite significant improvements which have been made in the H&S performance of the lives of working people over the last 30+ years, we must now take stock of what has changed and how we all adapt our approaches to be fit for purpose and effective in the 21st Century.

In 2006/7 nearly 200,000 people in Scotland suffered from an illness they believed had been caused or made worse by work. Over the same period in Scotland 31 people were killed at work and over 12,000 others were injured. This lays out the challenge to us all very clearly but we must be equally clear about the shared responsibility we have to address this and also the respective roles we need to play to work well together.

The range of stakeholders in Scotland are uniquely well placed to take the agenda forward in this way through the Partnership for Health and Safety in Scotland and the Scottish Action Plan for Health and Safety which demonstrates a great willingness to work together to deliver practical improvements.

We have been clear that leadership by employers is key and we will continue our efforts to ensure that dutyholders take their responsibilities seriously. We will also continue to work with them to encourage them to see the links between health and safety leadership and good business. The evidence is clear that businesses who have good workforce involvement in H&S deliver better performance on H&S and they also tend to have better productivity and higher levels of workforce motivation and therefore better performing businesses.

I emphasise the need to win hearts and minds in this area because there is a popular notion that the solution is much simpler. The idea that more inspectors, more enforcement and greater legal duties on directors somehow provides a magic bullet that would fix everything is far too simplistic a view.

Compliance largely through fear of prosecution and even jail is not a sustainable model. Of course the fear of prosecution has its place as one means of deterring some dutyholders from breaking the law. But it is equally important for us to acknowledge that there are employers who want to do the right thing and comply with the law but need help and guidance on how to do it and it is right and proper that HSE make it part of its role to provide help, guidance and support as well as enforcement when and where appropriate. But in providing that support and guidance we must also remain clear about who has responsibility for what. The law is clear that it is the responsibility of those who create risk to also manage the risk. Just as the law is clear that employees also have a legal duty for their own safety and that of their co-workers.

We will continue to balance the measures that we take and enforcement, in accordance with our policy, will continue to be an important measure in our range of interventions.

We also believe in partnership with employers, employees and stakeholders. We also set clear expectations and where people do not meet those expectations we reconsider whether other measures are necessary. If the combination of new guidance on directors duties and the impact of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act do not deliver the change in behaviour and ownership which we have clearly stated needs to take place we have already committed to revisit and review what further steps might need to be taken.

Later this year we will also issue new guidance on workforce involvement and consultation. The guidance will be built on principles of trust, respect and joint problem solving and it will reflect the range of workforce structures and arrangements which are in place in workplaces today.

Finally, let me return to focussing on the meeting the particular needs of Scotland and ensuring that we adapt and modify our approaches to ensure economic success in Scotland as well as addressing Scotland’s own profile of health and safety issues. Today we are launching an initiative led by the Partnership for Health and Safety in Scotland which aims to increase our combined efforts to improve Scotland’s workplace health and safety. The partnership helps to ensure that employers have access to good, relevant advice and support. The support includes Union safety reps, local safety groups, advice and good practice sharing from other businesses and the Scottish Healthy Working Lives Service.

I believe that employers and you as employees here in Scotland have a unique opportunity to access and use the talents of this partnership as leverage to truly make a difference to health and safety in Scotland and to deliver business and economic success.

A sensible approach to Health and Safety in the 21st Century is about partnership, shared responsibility, balance and addressing challenges at the appropriate local and regional level.

Thank you.

Updated 2009-01-06