Your excellency, other honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much to BSC for the invitation to be your guest of honour and to speak at this prestigious event. It is an honour for me to be here and to share in this celebration of your achievement.
I have to confess to being a little nervous at the thought of you all spilling out onto the streets of London later this afternoon brandishing your swords on the tubes and trains in the Friday rush hour – but given that all of you have such a high level of commitment to safety, I am sure that you will have done your risk assessments!
Joking aside, I want to congratulate you all on what you have achieved in your businesses which has earned you the accolade of receiving the Sword/Globe of Honour today.
The rigorous process which you have been through to receive the Sword of Honour for excellence in Health and Safety and the Globe of Honour for Environmental performance is testament to the high standards you have achieved.
A number of you will be receiving both the Sword and the Globe today. Some of you have an impressive record of consistency having received these awards in previous years. For those of you receiving awards for the first time today, I hope this is the first of many years for you.
My congratulations go to you all. You should take great pride in your achievements.
It is always a great pleasure for me to meet people like yourselves who have demonstrated such high standards of performance over a sustained period of time – in some cases over many years. I know from personal experience over more than 25 years working in the chemicals manufacturing industry what it takes to achieve what all of you have done.
This is not about doing the right things because the law, the rules set by others tell you that you have to. You all do it because you know it is the right thing to do – morally, to engage and motivate your staff and because it is good for the business and contributes to the bottom line.
I am confident that none of you would refer to health and safety and environmental regulation as being a ‘burden’ on your business – because to be here receiving these awards today you have moved beyond the point where compliance with the law is sufficient. I note with great interest that BSC are committed to raising the bar every year on the criteria set for these awards. I commend them on driving this culture of continuous improvement, although I do have a note of caution to sound on that later – which is actually a challenge to all of you.
Lynda has already made some very kind remarks about the high regard in which HSE- our regulatory framework and our staff – are held – not just by employers and workers here in the UK, but around the world. In my travels, I am repeatedly taken by the extent to which other countries seek to learn from and emulate what we do here. HSE is currently working with our counterparts in a number of other countries – Singapore, New Zealand and Qatar among others - to share our knowledge and expertise in how to establish and maintain a world-class health and safety regime.
Some of you might see this international recognition of our GB health and safety system as being somewhat at odds with the number of reviews which have taken place in recent years and the amount of reform of regulation that we are undertaking.
Let me be clear that I don’t see these as being in any way contradictory. My background is in industry and in the world of business to be world class – and to stay world class – a business has to stay on its toes.
The world of work is changing at an ever-increasing pace – new technologies, many, many more SMEs, complex contracting and outsourcing arrangements to name but a few things. We also learn from experience what works and what doesn’t and we know which areas we still need to focus on to achieve a greater impact. Because there are still many areas of our economy where they simply don’t get it – they regard health and safety as a burden and they continue to put people’s lives and their health and well being at risk on a daily basis.
So, just as you do in your businesses we need to review and improve, not stand still. Every one of the reviews of HSE which has been undertaken has confirmed that the system is fit for purpose. But over time, our regulatory framework has expanded with some areas being duplicated, other areas being unnecessarily complex and others quite frankly out of date with the current state of technology – cinematographic film regulations are a good example.
So, our reform programme is aimed at stripping out what is not needed and simplifying the language which describes what is required, but at the same time maintaining standards of protection. For most of you who are all ready well beyond compliance, I doubt very much that these changes will impact your business at all. Our aim is to remove the excuses for the poor performers that health and safety is “all too complicated and difficult”. If we make what is required clearer we expect to see greater levels of compliance. That is clearly the driver behind fee for intervention and our review of year one operation, which is currently underway, will provide us with evidence of what impact the new scheme is having.
So, I mentioned earlier that I wanted to send a note of caution in relation to raising the bar and continuous improvement. One thing we have also learned from the various reviews of health and safety is the extent to which over interpretation of what the law requires contributes to negative perceptions of health and safety in general. Some of this takes the form of unnecessary paperwork and bureaucracy – often aimed at ever decreasing levels of risk / hazards where the consequences are likely to be trivial. I’ve yet to hear of anyone dying or being seriously injured by a paper cut incurred in the office – but it doesn’t stop them being subject to a full blown investigation in some organisations.
So, my note of caution is really a challenge you all, that in driving continuous improvement please focus on what really matters – the true priorities. You are all exemplars of excellence – but what about your suppliers and your customers? Perhaps the next step in driving continuous improvement is to insist that your customers and your suppliers achieve the same standards that you have already achieved, rather than driving ever smaller improvements in your own performance. I’m not talking about becoming complacent but I am asking you to rise to the challenge of spreading your good practice where you have influence – up and down your supply chains.
We should share a collective goal to prevent death, injury and illness caused by work – in every workplace. I want you to help us influence those who don’t get it yet – because you all get it and have an important role to play in influencing others.
I believe that you are all leaders – leadership and excellence in health and safety has no boundaries – you can outsource many things but you cannot outsource responsibility or leadership.
Take your leadership and your good practice to others – show them the way – your supply chains would be an excellent place to start.