MPA Speech

Chair’s speech to MPA Awards event 6th October 2010

In 2007 one of my first engagements after becoming Chair of HSE was to attend the MPA Health and Safety Best practice Awards event. I am delighted to have been given the opportunity to join you and address you again today.

Three years ago I was impressed by the progress you had already made, by the level of openness you had achieved in sharing good practices across the sector. But above all I was impressed by the practical common sense innovations which you were showcasing which had been implemented in companies and were making a really big difference to health and safety on the ground in the workplace.

Having spent quite a chunk of my own working life leading a trade association I am a great believer in the positive role that Trade Associations can play and indeed that best trade associations do play.

This is not the world of lowest common denominator stuff with which trade Associations are often tarred but real leadership:

–seeking out the member organisations who have found solutions and using those examples to spur others on to better things,

– setting goals for the sector as a whole recognising that the reputations of the industry will be determined by the performance of the weakest links and that it is in everyone’s interest to work together, with a smattering of healthy competition and peer pressure thrown in, to drive collective improved performance.

In June of this year I attended the Target Zero recommitment event held at the Quarrying Open day at Hillhead. It is worth repeating one or two of the things I said on that day here today:

-To have achieved a 76% reduction in RIDDOR reportables over the last 9 years is a fantastic achievement and demonstrates just what can be done with real commitment over the long haul

-Your industry, in spite of the intrinsic high hazards, has one of the most effective health and safety initiatives, measured in terms of improvement delivered, which should act as an exemplar and a spur to action in other sectors. Only last week, I was with colleagues at an Agriculture sector Health and Safety summit where we were citing Quarrying as a good example of what can be achieved when people are properly engaged and committed.

-Your achievements are all the more creditable given the added pressures which all of you have experienced in the very tough economic climate of the last 18-24 months.

As your performance has improved and as HSE has worked with this industry sector over the last 10 years I hope that you will have observed that the relationship between the industry and the regulator has changed.- or perhaps it would be more accurate to say it has evolved.

HSE’s strategy for Health and Safety in Great Britain in the 21st century makes it clear that we must all understand our respective roles and responsibilities for delivering a world class heath and safety system.

Comparing the role and remit of HSE with any other workplace regulator elsewhere in the world can be difficult because we cover such a broad range of industries. I am conscious that there are some of you in the audience today whose companies operate in different countries and you may well be aware of some of those structural differences between regulators.

Indeed there are differences in our approach to workplace regulation albeit under the umbrella of similar regulatory frameworks, often as a result of EU directives. But it is precisely because of the underlying framework of GB regulation that we are able to effectively regulate such a broad range of industries with different risks and very different risk profiles. That framework is of course the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 which remains both fit for purpose and the bedrock of our regulatory regime in Great Britain today.

One reason for the enduring strength of the act lies in the fact that it is non-prescriptive – which means that the principles hold good for any sector at whatever stage in its evolution – new and emerging technologies just as much as long standing heavy industry sectors, public and private enterprises alike.

When we launched our new strategy for Health and Safety in Great Britain in the 21st century we were very careful to preserve and re-state some of those all important principles:

-the role of the regulator ( HSE and LAs) is to set strategic direction and to lead the system as a whole. We do this and will continue to do this through inspection, investigation, enforcement, research and provision of guidance.

But increasingly with large organisations and sectors who are mature in their approach to health and safety and who are delivering good performance we work in partnership. MPA and the Quarrying sector is an excellent example of how that relationship between industry and regulator has matured and evolved into partnership.

“Partnership” between regulator and organisations can seem to some a rather strange concept, but partnership does work when and where all of the organisations involved are clear about their respective roles and responsibilities.

The responsibility for managing and mitigating the risk – finding the solutions – rests very clearly with those who create the risk. This applies whether the risk creator is the employer, self employed, supplier, manufacturer. Employees also have a responsibility to ensure that their actions do not endanger their own or others’ safety as well as having the right to work in an environment where health and safety risks are identified and properly managed.

Where we have that clear understanding about who does what, when and how it all fits together, HSE can work in partnership with mature organisations like the quarrying industry where you have already shown leadership and commitment and you are delivering an impressive improvement in performance.

We will continue to provide advice and support to the leadership within the quarrying industry so that you can continue to improve and build an even stronger health and safety culture – heading as you express it for “Zero harm”. But in this type of partnership there must also be recognition that if and when failures occur it becomes part of our role to also investigate and take enforcement action if deemed appropriate.

I want to say something about the current situation HSE is facing. It is no secret that HSE, in common with other public bodies, is going to experience pressure on its resources as part of the public sector expenditure review. We would not expect to be immune from that and we are already, as you would imagine, looking at how and where we can reduce our overall expenditure in line with Government requirements. I am firmly of the opinion that our strategy sets out a philosophy that will help us to maintain our strong relationships with organisations and duty holders in the changing environment we all now find ourselves in. As more organisations are prepared to take the lead and fulfil roles where they are better placed to take the lead, the more HSE can take a supporting role in some of those activities and initiatives.

What remains paramount throughout this whole process is that we all remain focussed on our shared mission – to prevent death, serious injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work activities. We must also remember that our health and safety system is actually very good and with organisations like you continuing to show leadership there is no reason why the system and our performance across the whole of GB should not continue to improve in spite of pressures on resources in all areas at different times.

I do want to be very clear though that we believe it is our model of regulation in its totality which works. We should not be talking about inspection “holidays” in any sector, even the best performing ones. Nor can there be any question of us backing away from enforcement action when and where it is warranted. I would even be surprised if any of you in this sector wanted that to be the case, given the maturity of your approach, our relationship with you and the importance that your industry must attach to being seen to be properly and independently regulated.

But as you increasingly demonstrate consistent and persistent high performance, properly measured by leading and lagging indicators, with auditing processes in place which involves the whole cross-section of the workforce, you will see the benefits for yourselves of course; and you will also see HSE focussing its resources and its expertise in those areas and those businesses where performance lags behind the best of the sector.

Taking a proportionate approach not only applies to the way in which we regulate individual risks within a given business and in the way we apply regulation to varying levels of risks between high and low hazard businesses but also in terms of enabling us to allocate attention and resources on a proportionate basis.

But where there is obvious leadership from within the industry and the sector it is timely for you to set the pace and the agenda for yourselves in other ways and on taking the next steps forward.

One example of where this might apply in your sector is in relation to supply chain issues. Sharing and driving good practice among your suppliers is something where you can lead and where the role of the regulator can be strictly one of support. I believe that you have the enthusiasm and the capability within your own community to take this agenda forward and I encourage you to think along these lines. I know that you have ideas which you believe could make a difference to safety in your operations if your suppliers can be convinced to make safety modification to some of the mobile plant equipment they supply to you. I remind you here again that the strategy calls for us all to recognise our respective roles and responsibilities within the system.

It will often be difficult and inappropriate for the regulator to have a role and make interventions in what are essentially commercial relationships up and down the supply chain. I firmly believe that you can and should take this initiative forward but with us in a supporting role. This type of independence of action even within a partnership becomes all the more important when we all face difficult decisions about where to focus our limited resources. Duplication of effort is a luxury we simply cannot afford.

In a similar vein I also applaud your commitment in the quarrying sector to involving the workforce and to increasing levels of competence. Your track record on vocational qualifications is impressive and I am particularly pleased that you are involved in running joint manager/worker training sessions. Just as we don’t need our important mission to be slowed down by duplication of effort, we certainly don’t need health and safety to be in any way a confrontational battle ground between management and workforce. We need to find the best ideas, whoever has them and implement them. I know that you know that and better still – part of why you are here today is to celebrate what you have achieved already through making this philosophy a reality.

In the coming weeks we are all anticipating hearing the outcome of Lord Young’s review of Health and Safety and the Compensation culture. Whilst I am not in a position to comment on the precise content of Lord Young’s report, I can say that from the outset HSE has warmly welcomed the review and it is our intention to work closely with Lord Young and his team to implement any recommendations it contains which relate to the work of HSE and workplace health and safety.

I can be confident of this because we know that Lord Young shares a strong commitment to the same principles, some of which I have already spoken about this morning – focussing on real risks, taking a proportionate approach and freeing up low risk activities from unnecessary bureaucracy. Our strategy for the Health and Safety system as a whole and your key role in leading delivery of the sector strategy for quarrying are already on a course which is in line with Lord Young’s approach.

His work will help us to achieve what we know is important – saving lives, preventing death, injury and illness in the workplace – if we see some real shift in attitude towards much of the nonsense which is done in the name of health and safety and which devalues the brand and the real work we are engaged in.

We may live in changing times, but the strategic direction of our activities and yours remains the same. Keep up the good work – celebrate your successes to date, consolidate them and strive to do even better in the future.

Thank you.