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HSE Annual Conference - Chair - Speech for welcome and context setting - 18 September 2017

Martin Temple CBE, HSE Chair

Thank you very much to Penny Mordaunt MP the Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work, for supporting and speaking at today's event. And it's a great privilege for me as Chair of the Health and Safety Executive to have the opportunity to set out why today's activities are important, and to ask you all to play your part by participating actively and openly in the interactive sessions.

I'm sure that all of us here can agree that work should not damage people's health or endanger their safety. And I'm sure we can agree that doesn't just happen by chance. The successes we see in Great Britain's health and safety record are down to the dynamic system in place and the partnerships it brings between the regulator, workers, employers and others – people like you and the organisations you represent - who are committed to making prevention a reality. Thank you for that support, it has helped to make a real difference to people's lives, businesses and society as a whole.

But we also know it is never a case of 'job done'.

The Minister highlighted that] there were still 137 workers killed at work last year, and perhaps more importantly is that over 72,000 other injuries to employees were reported under RIDDOR and half a million NEW cases of illness that people believed was caused or made worse by their work.

And the overall costs to the economy each year of not getting health and safety right all of the time are estimated at £14.1billion pounds.

Since I joined HSE last year I've been astounded by the breadth of work that HSE does and the expertise across the organisation. It is needed and put to good effect, so HSE can apply a range of interventions and tools to suit the diverse range of industries we regulate, from chemicals, to offshore and onshore energy, waste and recycling, agriculture, manufacturing, engineering, high hazard installations, construction and beyond.

I have also perceived 3 major challenges which I must give attention to over my time as Chair.

Firstly, to ensure that HSE handles effectively its current responsibilities and maintains a steady pace of improvement about what it does today. Within that give real attention to steady reduction in the 72,000 plus reported injuries per year.

Secondly ensure that we deliver on our strategic intent around the health side of health and safety.

Thirdly, preparing ourselves for future challenges. Let me touch briefly on each of these in turn.

Firstly, to improve what we do today, HSE regulates by targeting activity where the risks are greatest or where health and safety management is poorest. We do this firmly, openly, and fairly so that everyone plays by the same rules. When enforcement is needed we make sure those responsible are held to public account for their failures.

But it is not all about that, and as preventing incidents is always better than dealing with the aftermath of failure, HSE is placing greater emphasis on using the latest insights to create thought inspiring and award winning campaigns, working with trade unions, employers' bodies and employers, to influence attitudes and shift perceptions, bringing about positive culture and behaviour change. That is a very big part of what we've got to do to reduce that 72,000.

To move on to the third challenge I mentioned – I'll come back to the second - we know that bringing about improvements has never simply been about meeting the challenges of today. Improvement requires meeting the challenges of tomorrow as well.

HSE is working hard to look ahead and see how we will cope with a changing world, and the new challenges it will bring.

I also want you to think about how ready your organisations are, and other organisations you work with, to tackle the challenges ahead from the rapid pace of change in the workplace, which includes new technologies and new ways of working.

The pace of change is a key factor in all aspects of business –having the right management systems and cultures in place to deal with change is crucial.

To put in context it wasn't until 75 years after the telephone was invented that it reached 50 million users.

Things are happening quicker and the nature of work is changing faster.  Whilst we have seen this general shift before, this time the speed of change is greater than ever. I'll just touch on two aspects of this briefly now, demographics and technology.

On demographics, we are facing an ageing workforce in the UK with a clear trend towards workers staying economically active for longer.

Three years ago the average age of the UK population exceeded 40 for the first time and by 2040, nearly 1 in 7 people are projected to be over 75 – I'm a bit too close to that myself!

Workers over 50 now make up nearly a 1/3 of the UK workforce, up from less than a 1/4 in 2000 and the employment rate for those over 65 has more than doubled in the last 15 years, to 1.2million.

There is a clear link here with the need for work not to cause ill-health.

Technology has had - and continues to have - a major impact on jobs and the workplace.

Computing power will have major effects in terms of pervasive computing, which can already be found in cars, phones, toys, and is now going into micro-electromechanical systems, invisible, in clothes, fashion accessories, even contact lenses.

Cyber security is crucial to protect Industrial Automation and Control Systems (IACS) against threats to security through accidental circumstances, actions or events, or through deliberate attack.

And the general pace of change is such that we are now seeing reports that 65% of children entering primary school today will end up working in jobs that do not yet exist.

With the gig economy, how do we instil company values on things like health and safety, and even more fundamentally, what might be the definition of an employee in the future? HSE will need to ensure relevant dutyholders maintain their responsibilities to those workers.

It's not easy to predict the future but colleagues at HSE's laboratory in Buxton – the largest research facility of its kind in Europe – have turned futures work into as much of a science as possible.

And HSE as a whole is preparing for the workplaces of tomorrow through research and building new capability in ourselves, our partners and through the health and safety system.

A pertinent quote from the time management guru Alan Lakein is "Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now."

I've now covered very briefly the first and third challenges as Chair. Now I move on to my second challenge and the main theme of our conference today, for which that quote is equally apt.

Yes, I want to talk now about health and HSE's support for the 'health and work' and sector plans.  The plans set out our strategic priorities over the next 3-5 years for occupational health and nineteen different industry sectors.  Having strategic priorities will allow others to combine their efforts with ours to deliver the outcomes we are all seeking.

We have heard from the Minister about the stark costs to businesses and the economy of ill-health.

When staff become ill through their work, businesses become disrupted, losing valuable skills and experience whilst facing the difficulties of working light, the hassle and costs of recruitment – which are around £2000 each time, administration and training costs. All whilst someone who had been perfectly capable of doing the job is sitting ill at home or needing to call on the hard pressed health services.

Some of HSE's work to support the plans is driven by what must be done, for example: investigating incidents, assessing safety cases, giving permission for the most hazardous activities to proceed and delivering international obligations in assessing and approving the sale of chemicals.

Other aspects of HSE's efforts are about directing and supporting the work of other co-regulators, such as working with our colleagues in Local Authorities to achieve the best outcomes for the resources they are able to commit on health and safety.

HSE is committed to playing its full part to address work related health issues, and in doing so help the wider Government ill-health agenda. However we cannot do it all at once, so HSE has identified three health priorities - work related stress, musculoskeletal disorders and occupational lung disease.

Work-related musculoskeletal disorders are the most common reported cause of occupational ill health in Great Britain, accounting for 41% of all work-related ill health cases and 34% of all working days lost due to ill-health.

Work related stress is the second most commonly reported cause of occupational ill health in Great Britain – accounting for 37% of all work-related ill health cases and 45% of all working days lost due to ill-health.

Occupational lung disease continues to lead to an estimated 13,000 deaths each year. That's a massive figure.

We have to work in a way which is structured and address the more important challenges duty holders face. To this end we have segmented the market and developed Sector plans, identifying 19 sectors in Great Britain's economy, scoped by recognised industry identities and common risk profiles.

I'd like to mention a few of the issues affecting some of those sectors to bring it alive for you a little:

Agriculture - Agriculture covers 1% of the GB workforce but accounts for 20% of worker deaths. A massive figure when you think about it. The injury rate is also high and probably under-reported.

Construction – Almost 30% of fatal injuries occur in Construction. And that's in a sector that has substantially upped its game, particularly larger companies.

Logistics and Transport – The rate of musculoskeletal disorders is 50% higher in logistics and transport than the average.

Public services- around 400,000 public service workers suffer an illness they believe to be work related each year.

Waste and recycling – Twice as many workers are injured than the all-industry average and 5% of the sector's workers believe they suffer a work-related illness.

Let's not kid ourselves that this is all a stroll in the park, we know it is going to be difficult for some of these issues, particularly stress and mental health issues, we are still at the stage where all too often workers feel uncomfortable even talking to a line manager, HR department or occupational health support. HSE certainly isn't looking to blame people – workers or dutyholders. We need to look at how workers and employers can be assisted to have the right regimes to minimise the chance of issues occurring in the first place, but also to help as quickly and effectively as possible when they do. Businesses will get a more productive workforce in return.

What can you do to help?

As I mentioned before, please participate openly and enthusiastically today. And beyond that, if the organisations you represent can make a commitment, please be the catalyst to help make that happen.

We know it can be done: in November 2016, 100 Commitments were made by public and private sector organisations, government departments, trades unions, trade associations and industry partnerships in support of the Helping Great Britain Work Well strategy.

A full update on those commitments and announcements of new initiatives will be available in November this year.

If you would like to make your own commitment (or update a previous pledge) in time for November you can do so by going online or emailing [email protected]
Thank you for listening. Thank you for acting together. Thank you for helping Great Britain work well. Workers lives need it and businesses and the economy thrive on it.

I'm reminded of a quote from the playwright Tom Stoppard that seems apt for what is being asked of you today:

'A healthy attitude is contagious, but don't wait to catch it from others. Be a carrier'.

And to do that please join the conversation at 'hashtag' #HelpGBWorkWell – share your successes.

Thank you very much.

Updated 2021-02-23