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Judith Hackitt CBE, HSE Chair - British Ceramic Confederation's annual PLEDGE Conference and Awards Ceremony, Stoke-on-Trent

29 October 2009

First of all let me say how pleased I am to be able to speak to you today especially after my visits yesterday in the home of the pottery industries. Given my own background of more than 25 years working in industry I always relish the opportunity to see what is really happening at the sharp end and yesterday I saw real variety – highly automated tile making, brick makers in the midst of their health week, and highly labour intensive tableware manufacture. To see the nature and the variety of challenges you face in this sector first hand was really helpful to me. This is a sector I have been very much aware of for many years – not just because like everyone else I am a consumer of your goods but because during my time with the Chemical Industries Association, I had the pleasure of working with Kevin Farrell on many energy related matters. I was very sad to hear of Kevin's passing some months ago, but I am also very pleased to see that his successor is continuing to support the leadership role of the Trade Association on this important health and safety initiative.

I know you launched your pledge in 2001 in response to the Revitalising Health and Safety Initiative and it really has come a long way since then. You could say that you started a trend. Things could get very confusing during this speech because I will be referring to your own pledge and also to the more recent sign up of over 1000 organisations to a pledge to work with us to deliver the new Health and Safety strategy for Great Britain. Since 2001, Ceramics companies with the support of BCC have achieved something you can all be proud of. I have been particularly pleased to see the improvements achieved in reducing injury rates and the amount of time lost from work.

Between 2001 and 2007 the RIDDOR reportable incident rate for scheme members went down by 54% and over the same period the number of days lost was reduced by 68%, compared to the 2001 base line. This is great news and clearly reflects the senior management commitment you have secured to deliver real improvements, as well as the success of the collaborative approach you've adopted – involving employers, employees, trades unions and HSE.

I am therefore very pleased to be here to help to maintain the profile of your pledge initiative, and to celebrate and recognise the achievements of both individual companies and the contributions of individual employees. Your success is something we can certainly build on – both within this sector and more broadly as we engage with all of those 1000 signatories who are now telling us they want to work with us to be part of the solution in delivering the new strategy for health and safety in Great Britain.

I want to take a little bit of time to talk to you about the new Strategy. Partly because I think it is important to explain why we developed the new strategy and why we chose to include the goals that we did but more importantly because it sets the context for where you in the Ceramics industry might take your own activities and develop your pledge in the years ahead. Although this conference is about celebrating the successes and achievements which have been made so far by companies and individuals it is also a great opportunity for people to come together to share ideas and best practices and to explore how we canal accelerate the pace of improvement moving forward.

The world of work has changed considerably since Robens and the 1974 HSWA. Increased automation – I saw an example of that yesterday –, changes in working practices, an increasingly diverse workforce and changes in ownership – all things which your industry is very familiar with – mean that although the risks we associate with traditional industries remain, there are also new challenges to be met. It was in response to these many challenges – old and new – across all businesses that HSE developed and published the first draft of the new strategy for Health and Safety in December last year. We then launched the final version in June this year, after extensive consultation and overwhelming support from stakeholders.

The strategy describes the whole health and safety system, making clear that HSE has important responsibilities including:

The Health and Safety at Work Act remains the principal legislation under which all health and safety regulations operates and it is just as relevant today as it was 35 years ago. As all of you here appreciate, the legislation is based upon the fundamental principles that those who create the risk are best placed, and indeed required, to manage that risk. That applies to all workplaces today just as much as it did 35 years ago even though many of the workplaces and many of the risks themselves have changed.

The best proof that the legislation is good and fit for purpose lies in our performance because the health and safety performance in Great Britain is as good as anywhere in the world. But being good is not enough – nearly 200 people still die each year in workplace accidents, over 100,000 people suffer serious injuries at work and thousands of people suffer premature death as a result of harm related to experiences or exposures in the workplace. Last year we achieved a best-ever performance in numbers with fatalities down to 180. This is why we are all here – to accelerate and continue to improve on our performance in preventing death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work activities – this is our mission statement in the strategy.

During the strategy consultation, there was strong support for this approach – we all want to prevent incidents happening not learn from them after the fact whenever and wherever possible – because learning from incidents often means that someone has been seriously injured or worse before we can learn the lesson. It's a mission which unifies us all – industrial companies, Government, public bodies, employees, trades unions, trade associations and of course HSE as the regulator. I am in no doubt at all that the current economic climate makes this more important than ever – in the face of challenge and uncertainty, noone can afford to cut corners and run the risk of serious incidents and accidents happening in their workforce.

I hope that many of you have already had a chance to see the new strategy. It's a fairly short document which sets out 10 goals, which include:

I hope that all of these goals will strike a chord with you in the Ceramics industry. You know from our own experience that progress and delivery is only achieved when:

There needs to be a constant push to build a culture in the workplace where health and safety is integral to the way work is done and actually enables work to be done more efficiently as well as more safely. That culture is built on consistency – no short cuts or "just this once, it won't matter" and the actions have to back up the words all of the time.

Your industry has obviously been impacted by global factors which affect competitiveness and which continue to lead to restructuring, rationalisation and business consolidation. Change and uncertainty can add to the difficulties of creating healthier and safer workplaces – and you also know from tough experience that accidents and deaths do continue to happen in this industry sector. I congratulated you earlier on the significant improvements you have made and the dramatic decrease in injuries and lost time rates. But I am also impressed that you have recognised that there is still significant scope for further improvement and that you have therefore reset your targets for 2010.

Your scheme , the pledge, a collaborative initiative set up 8 years ago was excellent and much needed at the time and continues to be a very good way to take things forward. You already understand the importance of involvement – trade associations, trades unions, employees. The Pledge Board, which you established to oversee the scheme and monitor progress, was again just what was needed to set the directions and determination to succeed.

Your pledge is a first class example of leadership, involvement and partnership working through the active involvement of all those with an interest. It is clearly already well aligned with the new Health and Safety Strategy for Great Britain where we have said that everyone has clear roles and responsibilities. Your pledge showed the way forward from the outset by including not just a set of numerical targets to aim for but also set out some clear requirements for actions to be taken – very clearly placing ownership for delivery with member companies and providing them with guidance on the things that must be done to make this happen.

At this point I would like to commend the British Ceramic Confederation for their continued commitment to those activities which we know are so crucial to preventing death injury and ill health in the workplace. I am struck by some of the categories of awards that you will make later:

I am aware that these Pledge events take place annually even though this is the first one that I have had the pleasure of attending. They are an excellent opportunity not only to celebrate successes but also to share good practice – and even to share those ideas that you thought were good but which have not worked so well – there really is no need for everyone to learn lessons the hard way – especially in health and safety.

This industry has in the past been at the forefront of controlling ill health arising from exposures to silica and lead. I know that this is a continuing priority especially with regard to the control of silica exposure. Again, I applaud your initiative and leadership because we really must tackle the need to make workplaces healthier as well as safer – it is not always easy to devote the same level of attention to hazards which have long latency when faced with hazards which can kill and injure people in the here and now.

Again I'd like to thank the British Ceramic Confederation for the way in which it has provided a strong stimulus by producing guidance and supporting health and safety improvements in conjunction with others – employees, unions and HSE. This benefits everyone and by no means least the growing SME community. BCC is to be congratulated on producing customised support for SMEs in the sector including toolkits for slips and trips, sprains and strains and workplace transport. These toolkits are simple to use at the shop-floor level and lead to the taking of practical steps, rather than simply adding to the guidance which already exists. I am aware that the leading champion of this activity has been Francis Morrall to whom I want to say a special thanks for the support that he has provided over many years in furthering the cause of health and safety in the ceramics industry.

In closing I would like to leave you with some thoughts on the challenge you face in the future.

In light of the Pledge's success in delivering performance improvement over the past 8 years, further gains in the future will become more challenging and will need new initiatives , new ideas. The Pledge Board has already recognised this in setting new targets for performance by 2010 and by recognising the need to raise the priority of health issues. The Board continues to recognise the important role it plays in providing support to members on safety behaviour and occupational health matters whilst continuing to ensure that attention is paid to keeping injury reduction on a downward trend. You also have the benefit of being part of the CHARGE initiative which provides further opportunity for the ceramics industry to hear about and pick up on good practice in other not dissimilar industries including glass and glazing, concrete and cement.

Other industry sectors have embarked on major performance improvements and have had success – as you have. Some of them have then learned a hard lesson about the dangers of becoming complacent or assuming one element of the programme is "sorted" and needs no further attention. I would urge you to continue to consolidate and build on your hard won success to date – don't become complacent – but do explore new ways of taking this excellent initiative forward . HSE will continue to watch and engage with interest – we will offer support and guidance – and criticism if and when it is warranted, but in a constructive way. You are an important partner in helping to deliver on our strategy as well as your own pledge and I wish you continued success.

Thank you for the invitation and thank you for listening.

Updated 2009-09-11