Welcome to Glasgow and to our consultation workshop on the new strategy for Health and Safety in Great Britain.
I am delighted to see so many of you here today, all ready and willing to take part in this somewhat different but very important process of consultation on the new strategy.
Let us be clear from the outset that being here today and taking part in this process doesn’t in any way preclude you from responding in the 'normal' way to the consultation. Rather, our hope is that by being here today to share your thoughts with others and to hear the views of other stakeholders, any formal written response to the consultation will be enriched by this process. But as well as being consultees, by being here today we also anticipate that you see yourselves as people and organisations who can make a contribution to delivery of the strategy and being part of the solution.
I am sure you will all be aware that we launched the strategy on 3 December simultaneously in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff. In total more than 300 people attended the 3 events and the immediate feedback we have had has been very positive – from Trades Unions, Employers and from other key stakeholder organisations such as IOSH.
There can be very little doubt that we all share the same mission – every one of us in this room wants to play their part in preventing death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work activities.
Over the last 30 years we have made tremendous progress in improving Great Britain's Health and Safety performance. The legislative framework has proven itself to be both adaptable and resilient. Our performance improvement to date is something we can all take great pride in but certainly not be complacent about. The statistics for last year serve as a stark reminder to us all of the toll of human suffering which continues to take place in Great Britain’s workplaces.
The statistics shown here for Scotland make it even more real and meaningful – every one of these are local men and women, whose lives – and those of their families and friends – have been seriously affected by a work related incident or illness.
When we became the new Board of HSE in April last year, we decided to take the lead in developing a new strategy. We were able to build on the many strengths of what we already have but we also needed to take stock of what has changed and what is likely to change in the months and years ahead that will present us with new challenges for the health and safety system.
Today we have many more small businesses than we did 30 or even 10 years ago. However turbulent the economic climate may be over the foreseeable future, we can confidently expect that trend of increasing proportion of employees being in SMEs to continue into the future.
We know that in the past effective workforce involvement, particularly where it has involved unionised safety representatives, has delivered generally better safety performance. But today, not only are workplaces themselves very different but there are also many more workplaces with non-unionised structures or a mix of unionised and non-unionised workforces – our task is to find new and effective ways to engage current and future workforces.
Many organisations are already fully committed to a properly integrated health and safety system and they know that good health and safety is good business. But in the coming months, the economic climate is going to test that commitment in some places and in others there is a much longer standing scepticism/reluctance to embrace proper health and safety which we must tackle. Exemption from the law or from scrutiny by the regulator is not an option for any organisation – a common sense fully integrated approach is not an option either but an imperative for everyone.
And if we are to achieve all of this we must continue to challenge those who undermine our efforts by devaluing the brand of health and safety by hiding behind it as an excuse for not doing things and for creating unnecessary petty bureaucracy.
I am very pleased that we have such a large contingent of local authority representatives here today. Our colleagues in the LAs have worked with us on the new strategy which is a clear demonstration of the significant progress we have made in our co-regulator partnership.
I have already said that all of you here today are both consultees and contributors who have a part to play in turning the strategy into a reality.
It is clear to us that there is a role for every one of us to play but it is also important that we start by being clear what our respective roles are.
The primary responsibility for managing risk rests with those who create the risk in the first place – that means employers, self employed and manufacturers or suppliers of articles or substances for use at work.
Every member of every workforce has a fundamental right to work in an environment where health and safety risks are properly controlled. But they also have a statutory duty to care for their own health and safety and for others who may be affected by their actions.
There is also a wealth of third party organisations, who can play a variety of important roles in driving health and safety improvements. The TUC does a first class job in training safety representatives; employer and trade organisations provide tailored advice and guidance to their members; investors and underwriters can have a strong influence on an organisation’s appetite for and approach to risk; health and safety professionals can help businesses to become more confident in taking a common sense proportionate approach.
The role of HSE and our Local Authority partners is to provide strategic direction and lead the health and safety system as a whole. In addition to inspection, investigation and enforcement, we conduct research, propose new regulation where and when needed, alert dutyholders to new and emerging risks and provide information and advice.
This then brings us on to the first goal of the strategy which is to continue our commitment to investigation of work related incidents and ill health and to take enforcement action to secure justice.
We know that this activity will continue to take up considerable resources within HSE and local authorities – but it is an important part of our role. Investigation, and ultimately prosecution, not only secures justice but is also vital if we are to learn from events and share the knowledge to prevent recurrence in similar circumstances.
Part of preventing death, injury and ill health is about providing an effective deterrent for those who put others at risk or deliberately flout the law.
Our approach to enforcement has three key objectives – compelling dutyholders to take immediate action to deal with risk, promoting sustained compliance with the law and holding people to account for their actions.
We make no apology for taking a strong stance on enforcement but this has to be balanced with the considerable time and resource we also devote to advice and guidance.
Our second and third goals are linked. We want to encourage strong leadership based on a common sense, proportionate approach and we want to help managers to distinguish between what are real health and safety issues and what is unimportant or trivial.
Leadership means accountability and visible ownership. Real health and safety leaders win hearts and minds of all their colleagues – directors, managers, workers and contractors. They shape the organisations’ ethos on health and safety – including on what it is and what it isn't.
Our next goal is to increase competence in health and safety to enable greater ownership, confidence and promotion of sensible and proportionate risk management.
Competence has to be properly defined – it is simply not enough to be an expert and "know your stuff". Competence is about the ability to apply one's knowledge sensibly, proportionately and appropriately – that means profiling and prioritising risks and then recommending the right set of measures to control and manage those risks effectively.
There is a wealth of evidence that involvement of the workforce goes hand in hand with good safety performance and yet we know that there are many organisations where it still doesn’t happen. Our next goal is to reinforce the promotion of worker involvement and consultation in workplaces of all sizes and irrespective of whether they are unionised or non-unionised.
We believe we need to encourage a partnership approach based on trust, respect and cooperation. An important step in achieving this will be the promotion of joint training for safety reps and managers to build shared perspectives on health and safety.
We all know that we cannot do everything. Life is about setting priorities and identifying activities which will most quickly and effectively address the most important issues – the same is true in creating healthier and safer workplaces. Whilst there are some similarities in dealing with workplace health issues and safety issues there are also some important differences. Our goals in creating better workplaces for everyone therefore are:
Small businesses are an important part of our economy and it would be incorrect to assume that all small businesses are automatically low risk. Just as with larger organisations the level of risk is determined by the nature of the activities and how well those activities are managed.
It is important that we find new ways to help SMEs to understand and meet their obligations in a proportionate way – and we will commit time and effort to adapt and customise our approaches to help SMEs achieve compliance.
At the other end of the scale, we have a significant number of highly specialised industry sectors which do have the potential to cause significant levels of harm to their workers and to the public at large.
We will continue to work hard and maintain a strong focus on reducing the likelihood of low frequency, high impact catastrophic incidents whilst recognising the strategic economic and social importance of their continued activities.
So far we have focused very much on distinct health and safety issues, but we cannot do this in splendid isolation from other issues. Health and safety regulation is part of a broader suite of business regulation; local authorities handle health and safety in conjunction with other regulatory responsibilities. We need to strive to achieve balance in managing the interfaces between health and safety and other regulation and regulators.
Taking account of these wider issues as we drive forward health and safety performance is the final goal of our strategy.
Our belief is that we can agree these goals and develop delivery plans to drive us towards these goals we can achieve:
We are now approaching the point where we ask you to do some work.
We have already placed you in groups around your tables with people of common or similar interests. The intention of this is for you to work together in your small groups to discuss the strategy and develop your responses to some of the key questions we have posed.
But we also think that an important part of today’s process is to create an opportunity for all of you to hear the views of all the other stakeholder groups who are here today. Every table has someone from HSE who will act as facilitator for your small group roundtable discussion, but the facilitator will also be looking for a volunteer from each group to feedback the main points from your discussion to the plenary session which will follow.
Let me remind you of the questions we have posed in this consultation:
Finally, let me just emphasise a few points to bear in mind in your discussions and in developing any formal response to the consultation:
We want you to identify what your organisation and others can do to help us.
Our ideal is that when we have agreed the strategy, we will develop an integrated series of delivery plans which ensure that we all play to our respective strengths and core competences to turn this mission and goals into a reality.