I would like to add my personal congratulations to Paul Dufford, David Eves and Peter McKie on their Honorary Fellowships and to Geraldine Gee on her Presidents commendation.
Thank you for offering me this opportunity to speak at your networking event. You've asked me to speak about the new strategy - which I will do - and say a little bit about what it may mean for IIRSM and its members.
The process of producing the new strategy began over a year ago at the very first meeting of the new HSE Board - where we decided that we would not make a big fuss about the governance changes which would result from our becoming a Board rather than a Commission. We decided instead that we wanted to seize the opportunity to reset the direction for Health and Safety in Great Britain in the 21st Century by producing a new strategy.
Let's be clear from the outset that our system is far from being 'broken'. We already deliver a very good performance in health and safety in this country - but good isn't good enough and we were very clear that we needed renewed effort reinvigorate our rate of improvement. We also needed to take account of the many changes taking place around us
We launched our draft strategy in December and there followed a 3 month consultation process which included face to face workshops with over 700 people in 7 different locations throughout GB as well as the normal written responses.
The response we've had to the consultation was, quite frankly, overwhelming - not just in the number of responses but in the strong and very positive support for the approach we put forward. This makes us feel very confident that we are on the right track and it also means that the final version of the strategy launched on 3 June is largely unchanged.
I am sure that every one of you here tonight cares as much as we do about Health and Safety in workplaces up and down this country. You share in our mission to prevent death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work activities.
It is our collective efforts which deliver that already very good safety performance in Great Britain and likewise it is our collective efforts which will deliver the new strategy and accelerate our performance improvement.
In spite of being able to report last week that the number of workplace fatalities in 2008/9 had achieved a new record low of 180 (compared to over 230 the previous year), we are by no means ready to herald this as the start of a new performance level - the numbers of fatalities do vary significantly from year to year so this may be a statistical 'blip'. It may also be impacted to some extent by reduced activity levels caused by the recession. It is very encouraging indeed that there were less fatalities last year but we must not become complacent given that we have yet to confirm the numbers of major and reportable injuries for the same period. 180 deaths is still too many, especially when it is accompanied by over 100,000 reportable injuries, along with 4,000 deaths which occur each year due to past exposure to asbestos, and work related cancer deaths of more than 6,000 a year.
The size of the challenge we all face remains considerable - albeit we can take encouragement from occasional snippets of good news.
Our strategy is designed to address all of the challenges we face and to be resilient to changes going on around us. It is about being clear on our respective roles and responsibilities and about having the constancy of purpose to seek lasting and sustainable solutions.
HSE and our Local Authority partners will continue to devote significant amounts of time to investigations and securing justice - but this is not at all inconsistent with our overall mission of prevention - learning and passing on important lessons from failure is integral to prevention of harm in the future.
What is really different about the new strategy however is the extent to which it covers the important roles which others must play to achieve the mission.
Our consultation process only served to underline the importance of strong leadership and indeed a survey which we conducted to coincide with the strategy launch identified that 9 out of 10 business leaders acknowledge that strong leadership is essential for effective health and safety management. Now we need 9 out of 10 business leaders to actually get out of their boardrooms and demonstrate leadership by example. This is not only about walking the talk but also about demonstrating a common sense and proportionate approach to tackling the real health and safety problems in their businesses not focusing on trivia and bureaucracy.
Our strategy emphasises the importance of every organisation conducting its own risk profiling exercise and focusing on the risks which are the real priority for them. We also recognise that involvement of the workforce - whatever their shape, size and structure - is fundamental to doing this well.
Our commitment to finding new ways to help SMEs achieve compliance has been welcomed, and our announcement at the strategy launch that over £1 million worth of current paid for publications are to be made freely available via our website has also been very well received.
The challenges we face extend to all parts and sectors of our economy - from SMEs to high hazard industries including new nuclear build and offshore installations. It also includes a very large public sector workforce - including health and emergency services, and of course no list of challenges would ever be complete without mention of Construction and Agriculture.
It is clear that we cannot cover all of this ourselves in HSE either in terms of resources or expertise. We acknowledge the very important role that health and safety professionals play, but I'm sure you would think it very strange if I did not take this opportunity to say something to you about the important stance we've taken on competency within the strategy.
We need everyone in the system to be competent to play their part - competent to assess and manage risk by applying common sense and a proportionate approach, confident to exercise judgement about what is reasonable.
We do believe that there is a need for an accreditation system within this competency framework particularly for Health and Safety Professionals. We have no interest in HSE directly controlling or regulating such a scheme but we are very keen to ensure that all professional bodies who establish an accreditation system do so in a way that truly measures competence in practice not just acquired knowledge. To meet these criteria accreditation must include continuing professional development as a requirement as well as a means of sanction with real teeth for anyone who acts unethically in his/her professional activities - including providing inappropriate advice/guidance to dutyholders. We are keen to make progress with all interested parties, including of course IIRSM, but on a basis which respects all of those requirements.
I am happy to answer any questions about the strategy from anyone during the networking session but for now I think I have said enough. Thank you again for the invitation to speak and my congratulations to those of you who have been honoured here tonight.