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E.On Joint safety and health partnership working conference

Judith Hackitt CBE, HSE Chair, 30 November 2009

Good morning. It's a great pleasure for me to be invited to join you today for E.On's Safety Reps and Champions Conference. Since I became Chair of HSE over 2 years ago, I have spoken at many conferences and events but I do believe that this is the first time I have ever spoken at a company event organised specifically for safety reps and champions. I would love to see a report of this event on HSE's Pledge Forum website, as an example of good practice… but more of that later.

I have certainly mentioned workforce engagement in almost every speech I've made over the last 2 years, but quite often this is in the context of persuading people - that it's a good idea and that real engagement is about working together, that it leads to better health and safety outcomes and so on. The very fact that you are here together in this room today, that the CEO of E.On has taken time to be at this event tells me that this is an organisation which already understands the importance of worker engagement and is already well on the journey.

When the Board of HSE decided, in 2008, that we needed to develop a new Strategy for Health and Safety in Great Britain, we were very clear that this was about building on success. We often remind ourselves of the continuing toll of health and safety in workplaces up and down Great Britain. Around 200 people continue to die in workplace accidents every year, around 130,000 people suffer serious injuries and several thousand people suffer premature death because of harm they've incurred through exposure at work.

Whilst there is still a lot to be achieved to reduce these numbers, we must also remember that what we do in Great Britain is world-leading. Our performance is as good as anywhere in the world and better than most, and our practices are emulated around the world. HSE's guidance is downloaded and translated into many languages, and adapted for other regulatory regimes around the globe.

But as we said when we launched our new Strategy earlier this year, HSE cannot do this alone. It is and always has been the case that we can only achieve our mission of preventing death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work, if we all work together playing our respective parts.

Strong leadership, workforce involvement and a common sense approach to health and safety in the workplace are key to an effective health and safety system - in any and every organisation. Leadership is fundamental to everything else because it literally sets the tone for whether health and safety happens - or not - and the spirit in which it is undertaken.

Leaders will decide whether health and safety is managed because:

it makes good business sense, because it increases motivation and productivity in the workforce, because you care about the people you employ.

Or

that health and safety is about bureaucracy, paperwork and procedures or even worse, is a constant battleground between management and workforce

Worker involvement and consultation is important in every organisation - where trades unions are present and where they are not and in all organisations irrespective of their size or dispersal of work locations.

Prior to the launch of the Strategy, HSE published new guidance on workforce involvement, making a commitment to fund some new pilot projects to encourage workforce involvement. This includes joint training programmes for managers and safety representatives.

Given the evidence which shows that the benefits of workforce involvement are clear in terms of improvement, it's hard to understand why some organisations still don't do it. I realise that E.On is unlikely to be one of those organisations, but I am sure that it is an attitude you will have encountered  among other organisations you work with - perhaps contractors or others in your particular supply chain. It may also be that part of your purpose in being here today is to look at ways that you can improve the engagement of your workforce in health and safety and, in particular, to enhance the role of safety reps and safety champions.

One of the many reasons why we decided there was a need to reset the direction for Health and Safety in Great Britain in the 21st Century was to reflect the enormous amount of change which has taken place in workforces up and down the country. Today, the majority of workplaces contain a mix of unionised and non-unionised staff, some are non-unionised and some are fully unionised. Engagement of the workforce must take place irrespective of the collective representation structure - and it must also involve all of the workforce, not just those who are trades union members. Likewise, it is not at all uncommon today to find workplaces where direct employees work alongside contractors to whom work has been contracted or outsourced. The term contractor no longer implies those who are engaged on a short-term basis, they may well be employed on long-term contracts. In such cases and, given that the risks encountered in a given workplace will be the same / similar for both, it seems only logical that workforce engagement needs to include contractors as well as direct employees. There can be no question of 'us and them' or implications of second class citizens when it comes to health and safety - the same protection and the same level of engagement and involvement is essential for everyone, irrespective of their employment status.

Just as I've said that leaders can set the tone for the culture for how health and safety is managed in any workplace; it's also important to acknowledge that this statement applies not just to those who lead the organisation from the top but at every level in the organisation. Safety representatives and champions are - by definition - leaders themselves because it is part of their role to speak on behalf of their colleagues and workmates - and the spirit in which that role is carried out is also vitally important.

You have a choice whether you present your health and safety concerns to management as problems for them to sort out and fix, or whether you identify not only the problem but also offer up a way of solving the problem.

You have a choice about which areas of health and safety you focus on. Just as with senior managers. If you are doing your task properly and well, you will be focussing on those risks which are real and which are highest priority. It may also mean that from time to time you have to help some of your colleagues to see their personal health and safety concerns in a broader perspective.

It would be hard to imagine any other industry sector that is facing the prospect of as much change as the Energy sector. The challenges range from the potential for significant new nuclear power generation, growing use of renewable sources such as wind and wave power, applying new and as yet unproven technologies such as carbon capture and storage to coal fired power generation. At the customer end, competition is fierce and there are increased pressures to work with customers to encourage them to be more energy efficient. For those of you in the industry this presents challenges of a growing workload, potential acquisition of new skills, all of which add to the health and well-being dimensions of the agenda alongside the more traditional and recognisable safety issues.

All of this points to the need for more training to build competence and confidence at all levels in the organisation. As part of HSE's new Strategy I am particularly pleased that we are piloting joint training programmes for safety reps and first line managers. In the first instance these pilots are being aimed ay the manufacturing sector across the country and we are working together with Proskills, GMB and Unite. These pilots have been specifically designed to test methods of improving working relationships between safety reps and first line managers around the health and safety agenda, which should be a unifying rather than a divisive subject.

I am excited about this pilot project and hope that it will lead the way to such joint training becoming widespread practice in the not too distant future.

Trying new approaches and sharing good practice will play a key role in delivering the new Health and Safety Strategy for Great Britain. With over 1000 organisations signed up to work with us, we have now launched - on 23 November - an online Pledge Forum, where companies and organisations can publicise and share their good practice. The good work you are doing in E.On has to be worthy of sharing with others. I would encourage you to do it and become part of our Pledge Forum.

I feel privileged to have been invited to join you here at the E.On conference today. I want to encourage you to be bold in taking forward the health and safety agenda in your organisation. The challenges are significant, the amount of change which lies ahead adds to the uncertainty I'm sure. But irrespective of the business climate, health and safety needs to remain high on everyone's agenda. Now more than ever you need competence and confidence at all levels to focus on the real priorities. You need teamwork and collaboration to find and implement solutions. There is no room for artificial barriers and "his job, not mine" mentality. Have a good conference, but above all make a commitment  to being part of the solution to delivering an improved health and safety culture and performance for E.On, for Great Britain, but above all for every one of you and your colleagues.

Thank you.

Updated 2009-08-12