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Transcript - Director leadership - Judith Hackitt

Transcript of April 2008 podcast.

We recently spoke to Judith Hackitt who chairs the Health and Safety Executive’s board about health and safety leadership.  At the end of last year HSE and the IOD jointly published new guidance on leadership for directors and board members. 

We asked Judith why health and safety leadership is so important?

Because for any organisation to truly deliver on health and safety and make it as important as it needs to be, it has to be led from the top and that leadership from the very top of every organisation, has not only to be there in word but also in deed, and we think that unless you have that you can never truly embed a safety culture in an organisation.  So it has to be leadership from the top and the new guidance was specifically put together to provide Directors with some real clear examples of what we mean by leadership, what leadership actually looks like if its being done properly and is well embedded in the organisation.  What is really important however is that directors see this as something they need to take action on.  This is not just about reading the guidance and then putting it on a shelf, this is very much about taking in to account the messages and being seen to act upon it.  There is a lot of people who believe we need further regulation on Directors’ duties.  Whether or not that is true remains to be seen but right now what we need to see is true action from Directors visible signs that they take their duties seriously, and that needs to apply across all sectors and all businesses not matter what size they are.

So why did HSE decide to involve the IOD in developing new guidance?

We decided to involve the IOD in the production of the guidance because we wanted to produce something that would really resonate with the audience.  HSE produces a lot of guidance, clearly when we do that we produce it to the best of our ability with the audience in mind but in this case because we wanted it to be really user friendly and really aimed at the Directors themselves, we thought it was entirely appropriate that we worked with the IOD and produced something that was written by Directors for Directors in a language that would be meaningful to them and we were delighted when the IOD took up our invitation to take part and lead this process and indeed involve all of the other relevant stakeholders to make this a really meaningful piece of guidance.

What does HSE expect Directors and Board members to do?

First of all I think the important thing is for Directors to read the guidance and read it quite carefully, and read it with a view to assessing how their own organisation measures up against what it says in there, and to be really honest about that.  Its not simply a case of reading it and feeling that you are more or less there I think there is a real need for Directors not only to assess are they doing most of the things but if there are gaps what are they going to do about it.  We really do need to see a change in behaviour here and in all sorts of Board of all shapes and sizes of businesses.  Good health and safety doesn’t come about just because its number one item on the agenda of the board meeting, what matters is whether what you are being told really reflects what is going on out there in the businesses that you run.  Simply having data once a month that says there are no injuries or no accidents happening out there in your business, don’t necessarily tell you whether there are things going on out there which could, in due course lead to serious incidents or accidents.  The really important thing is to think how do you get good assurance of what is truly going on in the business, not simply measured by absence of negative statistics at any given point in time.

Finally the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act came in to force in April, we asked Judith for her thoughts on how it bares on the leadership guidance?

I think the fact that the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act has just entered in to force very soon after we issued that guidance is a very powerful combined message to business, because there is no doubt that the new Act has brought to peoples attention the need to revisit this area.  The good thing is that the production of our guidance that preceded it provides a very very useful benchmark against which Directors can now look at the way the lead in their business and gives them some really good benchmarks as to the things that they need to do differently if they find there are gaps versus what they feel they’re being asked to do.  I think what is important also is that Directors don’t see this as something which they need to fear.  Organisations that approach this sensibly and can assure themselves that they are doing the right thing, do not need to see the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act as a great threat, but it is important I think in that it provides an excellent opportunity and a very good prompt for every business to look at its practises and to look at how it can improve, and for some it’s a real wake up call for them to need to change their behaviour.  My final point is that this is really down to business now to deliver on this agenda.  We have delivered on guidance, the law has been changed, it is now down to business to reflect on its practices and to look at where and how it needs to change its behaviour.  There are some companies out there some business out there that already do a very good job and where there is a real safety culture led from the top by Directors, but we also know that there are many many businesses out there where that is not the case, either where Directors pay lip service to health and safety or indeed where that culture is not present at all.  It is to those people that this message is addressed we really do need to see a change in behaviour because the demand for further regulation is driven by people being able to see that that behaviour is not appropriate in all businesses.  We want to see that behaviour change but it really is down to business to deliver.


Updated 2012-02-28