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May 11, 2010

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SHE10 – More passion, fewer procedures urges health and safety champion

Do health and safety because you believe in it – not just because you have to comply with legislation. That was the rallying cry of HSE board member Judith Donovan CBE as she opened Safety & Health Expo 2010 at the NEC in Birmingham this morning (11 May).

Delegates packed into the SHP Legal Arena to hear Judith – winner of last year’s IOSH Lifetime Achievement Award – talk about the HSE strategy to build a safer and healthier Britain, which the regulator launched last year. Noting that this country has the best record in the EU in terms of workplace fatality numbers, Judith was quick to emphasise that this has in no way led to complacency. She said: “Having the best record in the EU and reducing the number of deaths to 180 last year means nothing if you are relative or friend of one of those 180 who died. Our record is not good enough and we have got to get better. A lot of people are still being damaged by work.”

The challenge now, suggested Judith, is to win hearts and minds and not just focus on rules and procedures. This is the key aim of the HSE strategy, which is formulated to engage people more in preventing death, injury and ill health among those in work, and those affected by work activities. This approach is based on the goal-setting aims of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act, which celebrated its 35th anniversary last year and which, according to Judith, has stood the test of time magnificently, given the significant changes in the workplace since it came into force.

She explained: “Our primary legislation is based on the premise that those who create the risk are best placed to manage it. It’s your workplace, your employees, therefore your solutions.”

The strategy is simple and focused, she said, based around just 10 goals. Delivering those goals is now the key issue, and Judith emphasised to duty-holders that the HSE will “help, guide and thump you – but it won’t do it for you!” Coordinated action on these goals by employers, employees and the HSE is what is needed to achieve them – “everyone has a key role to turn aspirations into reality”, she added.

To this end, leadership and worker involvement are crucial, as is consistency. Judith explained: “Constantly pushing to build a health and safety culture is integral to how things are done. It must be consistent – no shortcuts!”

As a businesswoman in the SME sector and a champion for the cause of small firms, Judith spoke from experience in her advice to delegates that “if you care about health and safety you will automatically have a good business. If you don’t care about your staff, you don’t have a business – it’s that simple.”

She concluded her address by again emphasising the importance of good leadership, worker involvement and competence, saying these are the key elements to achieving a good health and safety culture through passion not procedures. She said: “The culture that exists in an organisation will be decided by how its leaders manage it. Building up competence applies to everyone in the system – via good, reliable advice from professionals, and a sensible and proportionate approach to risk by all.”


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