Malcolm Darvill, Health and Safety Executive, Great Britain
4th EU/US Joint Conference on Occupational Safety and Health,
Orlando, Florida, 14 September 2005
European Union Keynote Speech


I am very pleased and very honored to give this keynote address on behalf of the European Union.

I would also like to support the comments made earlier about the victims of Hurricane Katrina. In the UK and in the whole of the EU, our thoughts have been for the families and friends of those who have lost their lives, and with the hundreds of thousands who have had their homes and livelihoods ruined.

Some of you – particularly those of you from this side of the pond – may well be asking themselves “Why is the limey giving this speech?” Limey being the affectionate term that Americans reserve for their former colonial masters! Well the reason this honour falls to the UK is that we currently hold the rotating Presidency of the EU – and you should be able to see on my first slide the flying swan logo of our Presidency. The design concept is 12 swans in flight (12 being the number of stars on the EU flag). Swans fly in formation using a system of leadership and co-operation to fly more efficiently; in our view, an imaginative and clever metaphor for the EU.

That is why the limey is speaking! Incidentally, the reason our US cousins refer to us as limeys stems from the custom of the British Navy, in the eighteenth century, prescribing lime juice for its sailors to help prevent scurvy on the long trans-Atlantic voyages – a very early example of sensible occupational risk assessment and risk prevention.

In its paper1 on the EU Social Agenda published earlier this year, the European Commission announced that the next phase of that Agenda is to have the motto:

“A social Europe in the global economy: jobs and opportunities for all.”

I dare say that these sentiments chime equally well if they referred to the US. Globalisation – of trade and employment - is here to stay. None of us can put this genie back in the bottle. And with it come new challenges and opportunities – such as those that appear on the agenda for this conference. It is our job to address and overcome those challenges and grasp the opportunities.

In his speech2 to the European Parliament in June, just before the UK took over the EU presidency, Tony Blair flagged up that the whole purpose of the EU’s social model should be to enhance our ability to compete, to help people cope with globalisation, to let them embrace its opportunities and avoid its dangers. Incidentally he also used that speech to demolish the myth that the UK was in the grip of some extreme Anglo-Saxon market philosophy and had no time for a social Europe. This is far from the truth. We see good occupational safety and health playing a key role in this agenda. We want it to be seen not negatively - as a burden on business – but positively, as a business enabler, in the best interests of both employers and workers.

So it is good that we will be discussing some key issues linked to this agenda – topics where we can learn from each other and on which there should be winners all round.

Global Management of Chemicals:

This is an issue in which we share a very strong, common agenda. Chemicals is certainly the “number one” global business; one which is a key income generator and one of the largest employment providers both in the US and in the European Union, where the sector generates about 3.2 million jobs in more than 60.000 companies. It is therefore in both our interests to help facilitate this trade but not of course at the expense of the environment and the health and safety of the workers who produce and who use them. If we can do this – particularly if backed by value-added innovation – it will keep both the US and EU well ahead of the game.

The discussions we will have over the next few days could not come at a better time. In the EU, we are – sorry about this – with REACH of delivering on our new Chemicals regime. REACH – the new EU policy and procedure – stands for the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals – and is a long overdue measure that will hopefully both facilitate the trade in chemicals and bring effective protection for the workers who produce, transport and use them. The UK Presidency – on the basis of the sound principal of under–promising but over-delivering – hopes to reach a broad pragmatic agreement on the final shape of REACH by the end of this year

Immigrant Workers' Safety and Health:

So what’s the beef here? Wasn’t the great US economy – currently the strongest in the world – built on immigrant labour – mostly from the member states of the EU? It is very easy to dismiss or ignore this issue but it is real and needs addressing. In the UK we certainly had a wake-up call in February 2004, when 21 Chinese migrants, who were harvesting shellfish in Morecombe Bay, on our North West Coast, were drowned when engulfed by the incoming tide.

There is now doubt that our economies benefit greatly from migrant labour – and it certainly adds to the variety and diversity of our modern cities. Recent research3 has shown that 1 in 4 of Londoners were born overseas. And not all these people are poor and exploited – 150,000, the fifth highest category, come from the USA!

But many migrant workers are vulnerable to exploitation and, for a variety of social and economic reasons, appear to be heavily represented in a nomadic, informal workforce servicing those industries that require labour (and dispense with it) at very short notice in response to immediate customer demands. But the problems are complex and multi-faceted and present a new challenge for our health and safety systems, although the provisions of our current EU regulations – our Framework directive – and I suspect similar ones in the US, already set out effective OSH principles for such workers.

Migrant workers are endemic both here in the US and in most of the EU member states. They are found throughout the public sector as well as in construction, agriculture, food processing, commercial cleaning and hospitality. We clearly all need to do more to influence employers and organisations with clear, strong messages to ensure that in practice migrant workers are given the full protection our OSH laws enshrine.

Recent proposals contained in an EU discussion paper4 highlight the need for action to manage migration at the European level, since without it migration flows are more likely to be able to bypass national rules and legislation, including those for health and safety. An emerging sub-theme from this Europe-wide debate is the need, at the national level, for all relevant departments and agencies to work together to ensure the system is transparent for all involved, an approach we are currently testing out in the UK.

Advancing Good Practices in Health and Safety at the Corporate Level:

We in the EU also welcome the discussions that we are about to have on this issue. Regulation can set the boundaries for minimum standards but if we see good standards of occupational safety and health as potential business benefits then surely we should be looking to go beyond these; but how? There is a growing debate about the key components/core elements of “good practice” including, for example, on the contribution of top-level leadership and ownership of health and safety by all employees. Our aim on this topic is to share experiences and identify the critical success elements to implementing and sustaining 'good practices' on health and safety at a corporate level.

So much for our aim – but what should be our goal for this topic? May I suggest that it should be to identify the most effective strategies that we can all adopt to get our social partners to work together – to agree, share and cooperate to develop and deliver their organisations' OSH values, goals and good practices.

Contractor Safety:

Finally, in the main workshop sessions we are to debate the challenges of the control of contractors – often a significant factor in many of today’s industrial accidents. This is not a new problem - particularly in sectors such as construction, shipbuilding and utilities, but is becoming even more ubiquitous as more and more companies and organisation contract out all but their core activities.

The best performing companies manage to deal with the consequential risks. They do this by:

  • having written safety procedures for managing their contractors;
  • prohibiting the use of further sub-contractors; and by
  • requiring contractors to submit their OSH policies, often together with method statements, all to be returned with tender documents.

They also give their contractors briefings on site hazards and safety procedures, and then regularly monitor them throughout the period of the contract and remove poor performers from site.

However all of this “good practice” can have a down side. Such “requirements” are often seen as our – the regulators – requirements, and as such are deemed to be burdensome to business and restrictive to growth and competition, often preventing new enterprises, with out a good track record, from being established.

On the other hand, contractors are often taken on without any checks on their competency or experience, including health and safety. And if a job is completed successfully they are placed on a list of ‘approved’ contractors for future work.

The Irish VPP Project.

I am also pleased to see that progress with the OSHA-Ireland VPP Pilot Project will be reviewed. The British HSE’s sister organisation in Northern Ireland, HSENI, is a key partner in this pilot and we are following its progress with interest. Most of you will know that it started life as a result of discussions at the last EU/USA conference in Lemnos; it is good to see that these conferences can produce real progress and results.

I would like to conclude by reminding you that this conference is taking place at a time when many of our parents and older relatives, both here in the US and also in many EU member states, are celebrating, probably for the last time, the end of the Second World War. I believe that it is very hard for those of us who did not live through that war to grasp the full horror, misery and carnage it produced. Recent events – both made-made and natural disasters, horrific as they have been, are not in the same league. However what is often forgotten is some of the good things that came about as a result of that terrible war.

One of these has been 60 years of transatlantic cooperation that has prevented another war on that scale. Another was of course the foundation of the bodies that has emerged as the European Union. I am constantly amazed that so many young people, particularly in my country, are unaware that the EU did not come about as a result of a desire for a free trade area but out of a desire to ensure that there would be no further major European wars. France and Germany, who had fought each other 3 times in the period from 1870 to 1945, realised that if they pooled the raw materials of war – coal and steel – in a common market, neither of them, nor the other European states which progressively joined them, could ever go to war against each other again.

Writing at the end of War, in October 1945, in his report5 covering the year 1944, the then British Chief Labour Inspector noted that as a result of the war many works committees had been set up for the first time. He concluded his report with these comments.

“The closer collaboration between management, trade unions and the workers is pointing to a new era when the workers will exercise effective supervision over the conditions of their employment. Can we develop towards the idea that a factory is more than a place to work in? A factory is a place where people spend one-third of their working lives and must, therefore, be so run that the well-being of the worker is secured.”

In the last 60 years – on both sides of the Atlantic – we have certainly come a lot closer to that somewhat utopian ideal. But the fact that we here to discuss the issues on our agenda means there is still more to do – to secure the well-being of all workers – and to achieve the vision6 of the British Health and Safety Executive – to gain recognition of health and safety as a cornerstone of a civilised society.


Malcolm Darvill
Head of International Policy
Health and Safety Executive, London
12 September 2005

1. Brussels, 9.2.2005, COM(2005) 33 final COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION on the Social Agenda

2. See: http: //www.

3. Beyond Black and White: Mapping New Immigrant Communities; Sarah Kyambi, Institute for Public Policy Research. 2005 ISBN: 186030284X

4. CEC Green Paper ‘On an EU approach to managing economic migration’, Brussels 11.1.2005 COM(2004) 811 final

5. Comd. 6698 Annual report of the Chief Inspector of Factories for the year 1944: H M Stationery Office 1945

6. A Strategy for workplace health and Safety in Great Britain to 2010 and beyond, HSE Misc 643 2004 – see http:// www.