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Closing remarks at HSE’s major hazards conference

Judith Hackitt CBE, HSE Chair, 29 April 2008 at the QEII centre, London

I said at the outset that today’s conference was unique. I also said that it was an opportunity. I hope we are now about to make the most of that opportunity but that will only happen if the actions are taken as a result of these important starting discussions which have taken place today.

I have been struck by the similarity of messages you have heard from all of our industry speakers today. It may have felt repetitive but it shows common issues, and the extent to which the messages reflect what we see from the perspective of HSE.

We have been able to meet here today to learn from past events, but it is essential that this now translates into action if we are to avoid further major incidents in the future.

Here are a few of the key messages I’ve heard which must resonate with the people in this room:

  1. Process Safety cannot be managed or led from the comfort of the Boardroom. Real leaders have to demonstrate their commitment by walking the talk – which means going out and seeing for themselves. All too often senior managers and directors are far too detached from the reality of what is actually taking place on the ground.
  2. If the people on your Board don’t know about/understand process safety, then they must learn. We cannot assume that Board members understand the concept. This is not something which can be delegated. You are responsible and you must lead, and to lead you must understand.
  3. This is not about glossy volumes of procedures and management systems - it’s about listening to the people at the coalface who really know what’s going on. Procedures which look wonderful but are not being followed in practice are no use. Whatever system is in place has to be geared to ensuring safe operation – not to creating good impressions – whether that be for the senior management of the organisation or indeed your regulators.
  4. We have heard also that every Board needs to consider what the real vulnerabilities are and address them – and they also need to know that it is OK to seek help and advice from others – that’s also part of real, honest leadership.

We’ve heard about the importance of consistency – leadership credibility takes a long time to build but an instant to lose with one inconsistent decision – “production comes before safety, just this once” simply will not do – the whole culture will be destroyed.

Some good ideas came forward in the workshops:

Workshop 1

  1. Need for clarity about what this (process safety) means.
  2. Must find a way to share good practice.
  3. Should there be a CEO’s forum?

Workshop 2

A real and practical Peer review process is needed. Should this start with the sector or be brave and go for a high level cross sector major hazards forum?

Workshop 3

  1. Support for cross sectoral learning.
  2. Investment in resources is very necessary.
  3. Should there be a rights and responsibilities charter?
  4. Importance of visible action.

Workshop 4

  1. Training in major hazards safety essential for non-execs.
  2. Should there be an Industry Academy?
  3. How to get to the reality of what is happening on the ground.
  4. Follow through on actions and make it sustainable for successive generations.

The measure of today’s success lies in follow-up and delivery of a new culture where process safety is embedded in every organisation in this room and those in your industry who are not here today.

We in HSE will continue to give high priority to working with you in the major hazards industry. We are to support you but we are calling upon you to take the lead – learn from one another, apply pressure to your peers if they are the laggards, demonstrate real leadership, and tell us how we can best provide that help and support to you.

I think today has been a good day – but what matters is that it has been of value to you. Thank you for taking the time to attend – we know you are busy people – but the prize for making a difference and collectively striving for excellence is beyond price. But if nothing changes as a result of today it will be more than a great pity – it could potentially be a major tragedy.

Updated 2012-07-16