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Inspire by fire!

Two of my recent public speaking engagements have been at Universities - Surrey and Bath - where I have been invited to speak to Engineering students about my career - what made me choose engineering and how I came to be Chair of HSE.

It's a great opportunity to weave into my presentation why I believe health and safety is so important - and in particular what health and safety is about and what its not. Last year, more than 2,200 students started on chemical engineering degree programmes in the UK - that's an increase of 134 per cent over the last decade. What's even better is that the proportion of girls studying chemical engineering now is considerably greater than it was back in the 70's.

What I always try to impress upon students is the importance of building inherent safety into what they do, and what they will design and operate when they graduate and enter employment.

Many young people decide to study engineering today because they want to make a difference to the world - to find and be part of implementing solutions to some of the biggest challenges that we face. They absolutely understand when I tell them that solutions have to be safe to be sustainable - the world will not tolerate 'solutions' if they pose huge risks to society.

The aim is to inspire them at an important time in the career path, not to bore them about 'elf n safety - and it seems to work. I also like to encourage them to inspire their younger brothers and sisters and students at their former secondary schools to follow in their footsteps.

At Surrey, I asked them all if they had been inspired by science at school and the response was mixed - so many of them had been lucky to find their way into engineering in spite of that lack of inspiration from teachers.

To make the point, I repeated my 'Flaming Hands' show.

This simple, but memorable demonstration underlines how to make science more exciting. Although the selection of carefully thought out 'flash bang' experiments (of which Flaming Hands is one) are aimed primarily at teachers - I asked those undergraduates to think about going back to their old school and offering to provide some of that inspiration themselves - and I think some of them were up for rising to the challenge. I really hope they do.

Youngsters need practical experience and Britain needs schools to be willing and able to cut through all the nonsense to deliver energised, excited and engaged school leavers and graduates into the workforce.

In Great Britain we have one of the best health and safety records in the world, and many other countries envy our achievements. Tomorrow's engineering graduates will work all around the world and can lead the way in showing how to manage risk sensibly.