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

South East Regional TUC Conference, 25th November 2011

Judith Hackitt CBE, HSE Chair

State of the Nation

I’m very pleased to have been invited to come and speak to you again today, I think this is the third time I have spoken at your event.

The last time was two years ago and on that occasion I took the opportunity to speak about the HSE strategy - Health and Safety in the 21st Century, which had been launched only a few months earlier. It would be an understatement to say that a great deal has happened in the world of health and safety in the intervening time. We have all witnessed and been affected by a period of unprecedented change.

In my remarks, I want to concentrate on what we need to take into consideration as we respond to the current challenges  There can be very little doubt that times are tough and the challenges are great and we must alter our approaches to cope with the pressures being felt on all resources, not just in HSE, but in all organisations especially in the public sector. But it is also vital that we all remain committed to sustaining the strong health and safety performance we have worked so hard to deliver over a number of years in Great Britain. The crucial role unions and safety reps have played in campaigning and raising concerns to ensure all workers can go home at the end of their day’s work both safe and healthy has had a very significant impact. You can all take some satisfaction from the part you have played in making Great Britain one of the safest places in the world to work - even though I recognise that there is still much more to do to prevent harm and suffering to your colleagues in workplaces up and down the country.

I know that during times like these, it is sometimes difficult to be able to say how much is cloud and how much is silver lining when you are close to the events. That is why it has become customary, when I talk on this subject, for me to take the opportunity to place the changes that are happening into context so as to ensure there’s real perspective around the debate.

Firstly, then, the importance of workplace health and safety has not changed at all and no one wants it to become any less important. Just as our strategy stated; preventing death, serious injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work activities remains front and centre as the core mission of what all those of us who are part of the health and safety system do - it is what HSE does and will continue to do - just as it lies at the heart of what all of you are trying to achieve.

Let’s just reflect for a moment on what has been achieved here in London, with the construction of the Olympic Park. A truly remarkable achievement in health and safety terms and one which creates a great legacy which we must all strive to preserve and pass on.

But on the broader agenda, when the Board of HSE started work on the new strategy for health and safety in Great Britain back in 2008, we were very much aware that in developing it and resetting the direction of travel we needed to be mindful of potential changes that may come along and the environment in which we are now operating has certainly changed.

But following the publication of Common Sense; Common Safety, the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review; and the publication of Good Health and Safety; Good for Everyone on the future direction of health and safety regulation, the strategy remains relevant and continues to be our road map. Actually the strategy has offered a very sound basis for us to consider what the changes mean and how we will adapt our approach without compromising those basic principles or changing our mission.

Highlighting the importance of this point, earlier this month, HSE and ONS published the latest statistics for 2010/11 health and safety performance in Great Britain. Although it was disappointing to see that the number of workers killed rose from 147, for the previous year, to 171 there was also some very encouraging news with a significant fall in the number of people being injured in the workplace and those suffering from work-related ill health. The more observant among you may also have noticed that there were significant increases in the number of enforcement notices issued and the number of prosecutions last year. My comments to the media on the day of the statistics release emphasised the continued need for HSE to work with employers, employees and others to bring the number of cases of harm down even further.

In particular, we all acknowledge and our strategy makes it explicitly clear that it is leaders who set the tone for whether health and safety is effectively managed and whether others are properly and appropriately engaged in the process. Leaders make decisions about the health and safety culture, they decide whether their organisation is doing health and safety for the right reasons - because it is good for the business, for morale, productivity, and because they care about their people or simply because they have to do it to comply with regulatory requirements. And we all know which of these approaches works best.

HSE continues to stress the importance of leadership from the management side of every organisation. I can assure you, there will be no let-up in continuing to hammer this point home.

But the need to lead is just as great from safety representatives and safety champions too. Members of the workforce and their representatives can and do make a substantial contribution by playing their part in drawing attention to safety concerns and then using their experience to work with managers to find an effective and efficient solution. Our pilot initiative, to further foster this joint working approach called: "Safe and Sound at Work - do your bit" has been extraordinarily successful. An element of this scheme included joint training courses for safety reps and line managers that gave them the opportunity to explore, together, improved ways of co-operating in risk management. Take up of these courses has been exceptional and with continuing high demand we are now looking at ways of extending the provision of these courses - we are hoping to announce something in the forthcoming months.

A further step forward in this area has been the new inspectors topic pack that I know was drawn up in consultation with the TUC. The pack is designed to help inspectors maximise their contact with safety reps and to ensure they are properly involved in interactions between inspectors and organisation’s management.

I mentioned earlier the reduction from 1.3 million to 1.2 million in the number of people suffering from an illness caused or made worse by their work. But this toll of suffering is evidently still too high. Understanding this, HSE continues to emphasise to all organisations the importance of effectively profiling all the potential risks to their workers - health as well as safety - and putting in place the most appropriate and proportionate means to protect people.

Asbestos remains the single biggest killer of course. HSE is continuing to consider the best way to build on the success of the ‘Hidden Killer’ campaign and is committed to exploring ways in which it can work in partnership with industry and other organisations to develop and deliver new means to raise awareness. In the meantime there are a number of initiatives that are being deployed to keep the momentum that’s been built up. These include:

The Training pledge, in which training providers, working with HSE, are delivering free awareness training to workers. The original target was for a pledge of 4,000 hours of free classroom and online training from providers. But by the close of the pledge period this target had been comfortably surpassed with over 13,500 hours delivered. This equates, roughly, to the training of 4,000 people;

Having spoken about the Strategy and the strong foundation it provides, now let me turn to the impacts of the spending review and the direction the health and safety system is taking and what this is likely to mean.

The reduction in HSE’s Government funding has been well publicised and much debate has already taken place, especially in the health and safety trade press. But again, let’s first put that into context. Reductions of the order of 35 per cent are the norm across DWP - our sponsoring department. So we are not being treated more harshly than anyone else. I recognise, however, that many of you believe we should not have been subject to cuts at all.

But all of HSE's work in the major hazards area is already fully cost recovered and represents approximately one third of HSE’s total budget. Although we will be looking at ways to modernise and streamline our ways of working across the whole of HSE, the net funding reduction of 35 per cent applies most significantly to those areas where we currently do not recover our costs. A significant proportion of the reduction will be met through efficiency gains in back office services and estates, in order to minimise the impact on front line activities. We are also planning to extend the areas where we recover costs and I will speak about this later.

Our reactive work in response to incidents and complaints received will not change. Reactive work - including taking enforcement action wherever it’s warranted - will continue unaffected, based on our well established incident selection criteria and complaints system.

What the reductions will mean more broadly for inspections is that we will take an even more focussed approach to identifying those activities which really matter and where we have the greatest impact. Inspection has always been one of several ways in which we interact with dutyholders, and we will continue to seek out the most effective means of interaction for any given sector or company. We will need to target proactive inspection even more on the basis of risk and consider the likely cost-effectiveness of inspection compared to other forms of proactive intervention, which we know can and do work more effectively in some sectors.

The risk profile and performance of some sectors means proactive inspection will always remain at the very centre of our intervention plans and these will remain at their current level. There will be other sectors or issues where we’ll be developing other interactions further - and we will be discussing this with stakeholders as our plans evolve. Some of you may have already been involved in discussions about our sectoral strategies.

We will need to monitor the impact and make changes as we proceed on the basis of experience and performance. Sectors and companies can and will move into and out of scope for proactive inspection based upon their performance and any changes in their risk profile.

I know this will be an area of concern for some of you but I must reiterate that reactive work will remain untouched and we will continue to investigate complaints and incidents based on our well established complaints system. The important role that all of you play as our eyes and ears in the workplace becomes even more important.

I recognise that many of the organisations you work for or with are facing similar pressures so we all have to decide what is most important for us to do and what we can afford to stop doing. Decisions to change and to stop doing some things are never easy for anyone. During this process, I would urge you to constantly emphasise and reinforce the importance of focussing approaches and resources on those things that matter; the things that make a real difference in terms of preventing death, serious injury and ill health and in those areas where you, as safety representatives and champions of health and safety and we as HSE, are best placed to make our most important contributions.

But as we reduce our proactive work in some sectors we are taking further steps to review our provision of information and guidance to businesses. We have already committed to producing clear guidance for small and medium sized firms engaged in lower risk activities – the first example of this being seen with the publication of: Health and Safety Made Simple. This naturally flows on from the work we have already done on simple risk assessments for low risk businesses such as offices, classrooms and shops, all of which have been very well received. And can I also emphasise that when we talk about lower risk sectors, we do not mean no risk.

You know that HSE already provides a great deal of guidance, so the next step is to review the guidance that’s already available and seek to ‘simplify’ that wherever we can. This work will not change standards or levels of protection. Instead, it will create guidance that is easier to read, easier to navigate and ultimately easier for the user to apply in practice – which should lead to greater levels of compliance. As is normal practice, throughout this process, stakeholder views will be sought where a change of policy is being considered. Even in some cases where the review identifies that guidance can be communicated more effectively but there is no change in policy HSE will, where appropriate, seek stakeholders’ views.

I believe also that guidance is an area where companies, trade bodies and Trades Unions can come together more to produce industry specific guidance that may be better suited to the organisation and worker needs. Here again is an approach which is entirely consistent with the strategy; where HSE can move into a supporting rather than a leading role in the production of guidance and others can do more.

To complete the HSE picture I want to touch briefly on changes to RIDDOR, the topic of Fee for Intervention and HSE’s proposals to implement this, as well as referring to the independent reviews that are currently on-going.

Lord Young’s review, Common Sense; Common Safety contained a recommendation to extend the period for reporting injuries under RIDDOR from three to seven days. Following public consultation, the HSE board recommended to the Minister the change to the threshold as proposed in addition to an extension in the deadline for reporting injuries that fall into the criteria to 15 days from the current 10. The requirement for organisations to keep their own record of all over-three-day incidents remains in place, because this provides important information for companies and safety reps to monitor health and safety performance.

But at the same time we are making life simpler by aligning RIDDOR reporting requirements to HSE with those for formal sickness absence reporting at seven days. The minister has agreed the recommendation and once the amendment has been made HSE is committed to monitoring its effect to assess how it works in practice.

We are currently in the process of piloting a new regime that would see us recover our costs from those who are found not to be managing effectively the risks that they create. The intention is that material non-compliance with the law which is identified during an inspection should incur a charge for the work that HSE has to do to ensure action is taken to address the material fault. We believe that this approach is fair and equitable. Businesses who already do the right thing will not be impacted by this in any way but those who take short cuts and avoid taking action until we intervene, will incur a fee. This is a way of both recognising those who do the right things whilst at the same time HSE getting tougher with those non-compliant businesses who put their employees at risk.

The public consultation process on Fee for Intervention closed in October. A pilot period to test the process in practice has begun and we are taking account of the feedback from the consultation process. We expect to be in a position to formally introduce the regime by April next year.

As well as the proposal to introduce Fee for Intervention, Good Health and Safety; Good for Everyone, also announced the Government’s decision to set up an independent review of health and safety legislation. This has been carried out by a panel of independent advisors, chaired by Professor Ragnar Lofstedt.

The review has been considering the opportunities for reducing health and safety legislation. We are anticipating the publication of its recommendations in the next week or so and we, like you, are keen to see what the report recommends. You will also be aware that the government is also carrying out what is being called the ‘Red Tape Challenge’. This is a broader government initiative designed to give the public and businesses an opportunity to provide their views on all regulations. Health and safety’s major turn in the spotlight was in the summer. Over 1,200 comments were received but given the cross-cutting nature of health and safety, we should expect further comments throughout the challenge initiative. As well as informing the review being carried out by Professor Lofstedt, the comments will also feed into specific proposals for regulatory reform that will be reviewed by a Ministerial 'Star Chamber' of key departments later.

Although many of you may feel that this chain of reviews is a threat to the UK's health and safety system, HSE welcomes the opportunities which such independent reviews provide for an objective assessment of how we are currently delivering and to hear views on what may need to change. It is a means to ensure that regulation which has evolved over many years continues to be relevant, common sense and proportionate to the risk. But we must all be very clear that the aim is to remove unnecessary bureaucracy, not to reduce levels of protection to the workforce

So, in summary, yes, times are tough and tough decisions are having to be made. There is a good deal of change going on in the world of health and safety. The strategy remains our road map throughout this process and we see no need to change course at the strategic level. If anything the changes only serve to emphasise the important role that others, such as you, have to play in leading health and safety and being part of the solution.

We continue to share a common purpose in preventing death, serious injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work activities. Leadership, involvement, partnership and sharing of good practice have been and will continue to be part of how to achieve our shared mission.

We know what we can achieve when we all work together and the Olympics is a beacon for us all to take forward in the world of health and safety.

We will continue to do what we do and do it well and to the best of our ability. We need your support and more than ever we need all of you to continue to play your part. I recognise that this is not where many of you want us to be, but I do believe that we can maintain the integrity of our health and safety system if we continue to work together to do our bit.

Updated 2011-11-29