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“I hear so many companies that say health and safety is their number-one priority,” the HSE chair Judith Hackitt told a packed plenary session at the IOSH 13 Conference.
“Health and safety needs to become a core value in all businesses. Whether it has to become a bigger priority in its own right, I would really question.”
Speaking as part of a panel discussion on what action is needed over the coming 12 months to make health and safety a bigger priority across all industries, Ms Hackitt painted a very pragmatic picture of health and safety management for the year ahead, both within her own organisation and the myriad businesses it regulates.
She insisted that the regulatory framework is fit for purpose and that its reform work in this area is simply about “stripping out the duplication and the overlap”. When it comes to guidance, however, the HSE is focused on making it more accessible because “the easier you make things, the greater the compliance and the better the performance”.
Dr G Todd Wright, managing director of Sellafield, agreed, but added that priorities for businesses change and often get influenced by other priorities. He highlighted leadership, communication and training as the three core elements in health and safety that will help his business prepare for a crucial period of decommissioning nuclear facilities.
Dr Karl-Ulrich Kohler, CEO and managing director of Tata Steel, adopted a different stance, insisting that there is no discrepancy between saying health and safety is a priority and the realities of the business. He suggested that the reason his company describes health and safety as a priority is for communication. He said: “It’s not a question about motives. The one thing you can’t replace is health and the wellbeing of people. They are our strength and we need to protect them.”
For Dr Richard Heron, vice-president health and chief medical officer at BP, and also president of the Society of Occupational Medicine, the priorities are focused on occupational health and hygiene.
“Many of our strategies are long-term strategies,” he told the audience, highlighting the ageing workforce population and rising obesity as issues that could have major health and safety implications in the years ahead. He underlined the opportunities presented by the Black/Frost report, which proposes broad OH access and provision. “It needs to be professionally-driven by occupational-health professionals and we need to drive that over the next 12 months.”
Andrew McNaughton, deputy chief executive at Balfour Beatty, gave a practical example of how employers could influence employees’ health and wellbeing, highlighting how the company had introduced a ‘Walking World Challenge’, which encourages teams of employees to ‘walk around the world’, with the use of pedometers counting their steps – both at work and in their personal lives.
As expected HSE inspections and Fee for Intervention (FFI) were never far from the debate. Responding to a point from the floor that businesses would welcome HSE visits for advice and support in managing safety, Ms Hackitt said: “We know people continue to value visits by the HSE. Some continue to fear visits, but many value the advice they receive from visits.”
Reminding delegates that the HSE has formulated sector-specific strategies to help it target those sectors and companies at the higher end of the risk spectrum, she stressed that this approach is the best use of its resource at a time when it is under pressure to make economies.
Dr Kohler, however, suggested the HSE is moving away from sharing and learning with industry by withdrawing from inspections in certain sectors and through FFI, which could “create a distance [between the regulator and the duty-holder] and create an obstacle”.
“Often, you’re talking about balances often, and how much judgement do you apply,” he explained, adding that by visiting businesses, the HSE would have a more mature understanding of responsibility at operational levels. On a similar theme, Dr Richard Heron suggested that leaders of businesses need to spend time in the field, asking questions, listening to workers and finding out what their health and safety issues involve.
The importance on leadership was reiterated as the panel summed up their thoughts on the challenges ahead. Dr Kohler insisted that “leaders have to be the best health and safety agents in the business,” while Ms Hackitt championed health and safety practitioners as the conscience of the business and identifiers of gaps and solutions. She concluded: “Never, never allow bosses to delegate health and safety to you. You have to push it back up to them.”
In the video below delegates give their views on the panel debate.
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IOSH 2013 – Health and safety is a core value but not a priority, says HSE chair"I hear so many companies that say health and safety is their number-one priority," the HSE chair Judith Hackitt told a packed plenary session at the IOSH 13 Conference.
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