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RoSPA Scotland Occupational Safety and Health at Work Congress – Staying focused under pressure

Judith Hackitt CBE, HSE Chair, 23 September 2009

Partnership working - be part of the solution

Thank you for the invitation to speak to you today, it’s a real pleasure to be here giving this closing address. In fact this opportunity forms part of a number of events whilst I am involved in while north of the border, including my ‘day job’ of chairing HSE’s Board. The HSE Board also attended a Scottish Parliament Reception last night and I will be speaking at a Scottish Council for Development and Industry event later today.

I would like to start off, before getting into the main part of my speech which won’t be too long or formal, by saying that clearly Safety is firmly on the agenda and has received a good deal of media coverage in Scotland. This has been the case for some time with Scotland’s particular connections with the high hazard offshore industry but in recent weeks and months, this has been because of the ICL Inquiry. HSE has responded to the DWP Secretary of State. And, in addition to responding also to Kenny MacAskill – the Scottish Justice Minister and Scottish Secretary of State, Jim Murphy, we have published our response for everyone to be aware of our views.

This was a tragedy which I, and HSE, have apologised publicly for – we clearly made mistakes in the events leading to the explosion. This reminds us that we can never be complacent and must always seek to improve H&S performance. Words help but it’s actions and working together, that count. We must all learn lessons when tragic accidents occur and that applies to HSE as much as anyone else.

The theme of my speech to close your event is ‘Partnership Working’. Just a brief glance down the list of contributors today only serves to underline the importance of such a philosophy. There have been contributions from Balfour Beatty and Tesco, the Institute of Directors and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Services as well as HSE and of course you the hosts, RoSPA – all of whom are here to help us stay focussed and be part of the solution, especially in the context of economic pressures and challenges we’re all facing. The recent launch of the Strategy for H&S in Great Britain sets out 10 strategic goals to reflect common sense, partnerships and leadership.

As you’ll be aware, we very deliberately sought a wide-ranging of views during the three month consultation, and the final version of the Strategy was launched in June. It describes the whole H&S system making clear that everyone has important roles and responsibilities. HSE’s responsibilities include:

However, it’s not HSE's role to manage Safety in the workplace because this responsibility clearly lies with those who create the risks – for example the owners, directors, senior managers or "dutyholders" in organisations. This is not a new idea, but it was very important to restate as part of the strategy this fundamental principle which underlies Great Britain’s health and safety. The new Strategy reflects the fact that we need to continue improving in light of the new challenges we are currently facing and that there is far too much to do across the full range of challenges which we all face for us to be precious about who does what or indeed to duplicate effort where this is unnecessary.

HSE has been clear, as part of the Strategy, that our focus in relation to health is on prevention of those things which cause harm to people’s health in the workplace. This is where our competence and our remit lies. It does not mean that dealing with obesity, general wellness and return to work programmes is unimportant but we are clearly stating that it is for others to lead on these matters, not HSE.

Likewise, we recognise that the range of safety issues covered by RoSPA is actually broader than that of HSE. I applaud the work this organisation does on home safety, particularly in relation to young and vulnerable people and also the tireless efforts of the organisation on road safety. Let’s be very clear that you have our continued strong support for these activities but these are not areas where we will devote significant resource. You are in the lead and we are happy that this work is in very capable hands.

As you’ll be aware I have made numerous public presentations to a wide variety of audiences over the last 2 years since I became Chair of HSE. Invariably I have higlighted the need for real partnership, cooperation and the linked need for Leadership – to deliver sensible H&S. Again, I find myself speaking today to people who obviously share HSE’s values and principles. These types of events really do a power of good for HSE, in the sense that people realise that you are a key to Safety. Obviously, this event in Scotland reflects the importance you, in RoSPA Scotland, attach to helping prevent death and injury not only in workplaces but more broadly in relation to the risks we all face in life.

There is a role here for every one of us to play but there needs to be clarity about respective roles and responsibilities – this is very important. Our shared efforts in the past have helped deliver current safety performance – and our performance in Great Britain, including Scotland, is one in which we can all take pride, whilst still recognising that there is much more still to be achieved. In the same way, partnerships as well as the recognition of individual responsibility, in the future, will deliver the Strategy and increase our performance further.

At HSE, we rely on many different organisations to help us deliver our aim – the prevention of death injury and ill-health to those at work and those affected by work activities. As you’ll have heard throughout the day – living through the current global economic climate, it’s more important now than ever before to take Safety more seriously and show that it’s about acting in a sensible and proportionate way. Scotland is not alone in having to deal with the challenges faced by the economic downturn. There may well be the temptation, in these current economic times, for some people to think about cutting safety corners – this must not be allowed to happen. We must continue to make the case that good health and safety is good for business and that poor health and safety not only costs lives but also loses productivity, morale, commitment and is a major cost for business.

We must also prepare for the new risks that will come when the economy does begin to pick up – in a number of sectors this will lead to an uptake in recruitment, new and inexperienced people entering workplaces – and we know from experience over many years that employees are at their most vulnerable in safety terms in their first few weeks of employment.

I know many people here today help to promote and support organisations’ effectiveness on Safety. However, once the support has been delivered, it must then be up to the senior teams, managers and safety reps to make Safety plans a success. So, I wholeheartedly agree with what you’ll have heard earlier – businesses and organisations do need to stay focussed to help us all to deliver Safety improvements across the board. But this is not just about what you do but how you do it – it must be about shared practice, commitment, partnership, and leadership.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than in Scotland. There are a number of industry-specific issues and challenges that cannot be dealt with by us, the regulator, alone. Of course we can and do advise and work with organisations on safety issues. But we cannot deliver without our Stakeholder partners. We need help to spread the word on common sense approaches and responsibility.

It’s hard for me to underplay the importance of leadership across all sectors, in achieving our Safety goals. Leadership is not about the senior management telling others below them, on the pay-scale, what to do. Good leadership is about properly involving the workforce. The workforce are the ones who know the problems and how to fix them. They will be the ones who see and hear things every day. So, I believe that the views of the workforce need to be heard. But, more than that – the problems actually need to be acted on. Where appropriate, changes should be put in place to address concerns – these do not have to be major, costly changes – just ones that show people their views count. This is common sense and good for both short- and long-term Safety performance. In short then, and I’m sure you’ll agree, the workforce have to be part of the solution and leaders have to involve them because they truly welcome their input , not because they are doing it to "go through the motions".

Obviously every business will have a different risk profile – for some, health issues will be higher on the agenda whether that be related to stress or harm caused by exposure to harmful effects in the workplace. In others, physical safety issues will continue to be the highest priority. Leaders need to determine priorities and focus on those pressing and real risks – focussing on things which are not important and ignoring real risks and concerns will blow credibility with the workforce as well as leaving people exposed to risks which should be managed.

I must also add that the new Strategy makes it clear that we’re looking for an increase in competence across the board to build confidence so that measures can be applied sensibly, proportionately and ethically. I think by now you will be aware that I regard leadership as being about focusing on the real risks, and to achieve this people in business need to have the confidence not to bother with trivia and unimportant issues.

As you will know, there’s still a common misconception floating about, that a solution to reducing Great Britain’s 180 workplace fatalities and hundreds of thousands of serious injuries would be for HSE to increase our resources – for example by having lots more inspectors on the ground. It’s not really that clear to me if the people suggesting this assume it’s HSE’s job to manage safety in every workplace. Or, it may be that they believe dutyholders will only do their job properly if they are under the threat of being inspected and/or prosecuted.

I have to say that I don’t subscribe to either of these assumptions. Issues and challenges in H&S will not be solved by simply giving HSE more resources.

We also often hear from smaller and medium sized business representatives that HSE should do more to prescribe what must be done and how they should do it. I firmly believe, though, that even if we had unlimited resources, that we shouldn’t prescribe – we’re not experts in the different risks that occur in every business. For HSE, it’s important that the responsibility must always be with the dutyholder – it’s their business. We need to continue to get away from the notion of prescription by the regulator or the expert. This only reinforces the idea that H&S is nothing more than bureaucracy and box ticking rather than people being enabled to get the job done safely. We can all agree that this is what we’re about in reality – delivery in a sensible and practical way.

We depend on our partners and other bodies to be committed to sensible risk, to ensure delivery. Without the partnership of RoSPA and similar organisations, our resources would be spread increasingly more thinly and we’d continue to be pulled into areas where others are better placed than we to take the lead. HSE should not prescribe, not should it be the focal point of all health and safety activity – others are often much better placed to make the decisions and lead.

At HSE we like all of our stakeholders to recognise that they are special. However, I think I can say that RoSPA really are special. Quite apart from the fact their mission is closely aligned to our own – quite simply to save lives and reduce injuries – and to take this beyond the workplace as I’ve already said - their focus on matters relating to Scotland does not simply pay lip service to the fact that we have crossed the border. They recognise and support many of the important differences. Scotland IS different to England and Wales in some key areas, and RoSPA openly recognise this.

I’ve been pleased to see their work with Home Safety Scotland and the Electrical Safety Council has resulted in a comprehensive policy document, which was revised specifically for Scotland. This recommends improvements to be incorporated at the design and specification stage of new and refurbished homes and gardens in Scotland. RoSPA also plays an important role in providing the secretariat for the Scottish Accident Prevention Council.

I know that RoSPA is also heavily promoting the Management of Occupational Road Risk within Scotland, which is a welcome development. And I know the Scottish Occupational Road Safety Alliance has been formed by RoSPA, which is a working group whose aim is to develop a website to help smaller firms tackle issues relating to driving – this was recently launched at the Chief Fire Officer Associations annual road safety conference in Glasgow. These are, again, excellent examples of what we are talking about in terms of partnerships which are working well. And even better – partnerships which work well without direct support and intervention on the part of HSE.

I’m also grateful to RoSPA who are working in Scotland with the HSE Field Operations Directorate to explore how non-unionised organisations involve their workforce in health and safety related decision making and developing organisational culture. The idea of drawing on a range of business networks in Scotland with the aim of developing a self-sustaining ‘what works’ toolkit is great, and it’ll be underpinned by HSE messages covering the positive benefits of worker involvement, signposting relevant case studies, publications and sources of advice.

So, it’s really about the roles and responsibilities everyone has in driving forward the Safety Agenda. The effectiveness of the whole system is dependent on everyone playing their part and working together. People like you here today need to step up to the mark to deliver what’s needed. The current economic climate must not be an excuse for neglecting Safety – in fact it’s a good time for us all to reinforce the message that organisations succeed by taking a common sense, and proportionate approach to risk.

In summary then, decisions on Health and Safety are clearly about a balancing act. Sticking to my theme, working in partnership, we must keep those practices and systems that are good, effective and still relevant. And, at the same time, we should continue to adapt and change as the environment we operate in changes and we address new risk. By working together we can continue to make progress on this important journey to prevent accidents and incidents and save lives.

Thank you.

Updated 2009-02-10