Microsoft word - 9oct 2008 asbestos talk to jersey safety council

If I seem a bit disorientated or confused, it’s not my age – despite my hair having gone
white and pink I’m actually only 56. It’s just that in the eight days since I retired from
my “day job” as Chief Executive at JEC, the global financial crisis has turned my non-
exec Chairmanships of two energy companies from a few days a month into 18 hour
days; my laptop crashed and lost everything I promised my now ex-PA I’d faithfully
back-up; my mobile phone’s become as unpredictable as a supermarket trolley; I’ve lost
my car keys twice and forgotten my wife’s birthday. I said to my wife yesterday “It’s my
leaving do at JEC next week and they want to know what they could give me as a leaving
present – any ideas!” “Yes” she said without hesitation “Your PA!”
That catalogue of disasters is one reason I’ve got no Powerpoint and my notes are in my
illegible scrawl – bear with me…….(early hours so if you can’t wait…….not alone!)
Odd thing when people know you’ve retired they start telling you Viagra jokes. I’m a bit
old-fashioned with things like that – I don’t believe in artificial stimulants of any kind -
so when I asked the care home where my 81 year old father lives, why they’d started
giving him Viagra at night, I was pleased it wasn’t for some unmentionable gratification
– it was just to stop him rolling out of bed!
I’ve been asked to talk about Health & Safety management – in particular, that related to
asbestos. I’m pleased to, because it’s a subject close to my heart (utility b’fast?)
Reflecting albeit fleetingly in the past eight days on my 15 years as Chief Exec at JEC,
my overwhelming feeling is one of relief that nobody was killed, seriously injured or to
my knowledge had their health harmed during “my watch”.
Jersey Electricity’s normal business sends its people every day into unavoidably
hazardous situations, common in the electricity industry. Not just to work on high
voltage cables, switchgear, transformers and the like, which operate at 100,000 volts, or
into enclosed spaces like the inside of power station boilers for maintenance where they
could suffocate or fall from height, but we send them onto other employers premises –
typically construction sites where they’ll either be connecting new office blocks or
housing developments to our electricity supply network, or installing heating, cooling,
lighting and power systems within them …… in a working environment over which as
employers we have no direct control.
In my experience the management of health and the management of safety are two
different challenges. The safety side of JEC’s H&S management systems focuses
intensely on the risks presented by the environment in which we ask our people to work.
We have elaborate Permit-to-Work systems and specific safety rules which isolate our
people from the high voltages, the high pressure, high temperature fluids, the acids and
gases present on our own premises – and for work on other employers’ sites, we equip
our people with comprehensive training in Risk Assessment & Mitigation and we
undertake audits of and will remove our people from unsafe sites – thankfully a rare
intervention these days.
It works, typically and despite the variety of physical work our people do there is only
one (sometimes two) lost-time accident a year in the Jersey Electricity Group – this
year’s was a meter reader who fell off his motorbike. His injuries weren’t serious until
he fell into the hand of the rest of our staff who until that moment were anticipating an
albeit modest bonus for what, just 3 days later, would have been a full year without a
lost-time accident.
I’ve said that the management of safety is a different challenge from that of health. You
might expect me to say that safety management is the most difficult of the two because of
the diversity and severity of the risks in our industry which every day threatens to result
in an accident when so many people are doing physical work. In my experience though
it’s the management of health which is hardest. Contemplating someone fading away
with lung disease in 15 years time after inhaling asbestos particles this week is somehow
less profound than the prospect of dealing with the death of someone today who was
electrocuted or fell off a ladder, or got hit by a falling object or asphyxiated by
unanticipated vapours from un-burnt fuel deposits in a boiler undergoing repairs. It’s the
immediacy and impact of an accident which drives awareness of risks and actions to
prevent it. Health issues are harder to deal with for a variety of reasons, I think.
Increasingly, people choose to abuse their own health – smoking, drinking, drug abuse,
obesity, excessive use of in-ear music players are becoming more common so it’s
difficult for employers to establish a culture of respect for health, when self-respect itself
is waning. Even the best occupational health screening programmes and support
facilities offered by good employers like JEC, struggle to influence people’s habits, and
establishing a disciplined regime for health protection can be more difficult than for
protection against more tangible risks of accidents.
In the wider world beyond these shores there’s an added obstacle impacting on the
determination of some businesses to invest time, effort and money in the management of
health. That determination can only come from a continuous commitment from the top
of an organisation. The average tenure for Chief Execs in public companies is 2½ years
these days and the culture of profit-driven objectives and incentives leads inevitably to
executive focus on short-term financial performance – with H&S often compromised by
cost cutting, with disastrous results in the rail and oil industries, for example.
Thankfully in Jersey those conditions are less common. The Island has stability and
continuity in its businesses and a Health and Safety Authority which provides support
and encouragement alongside its enforcement activities. And, importantly, the high
visibility of businesses in such a small community and the scrutiny of the media and
public, punishes any business which is perceived to be reckless or irresponsible in its
actions or by its neglect.
I’ve said that good H&S management can only happen if there’s commitment at the top
of an organisation. Specifically, the Chief Exec – for its from there that the culture of a
company is shaped – its behaviours, its investment of time and effort and money, which
define in the minds of its people the relative priorities for the organisation as a whole.
Are those priorities Profit? Market share? Customer acquisition? Regulatory
Employee welfare would be up there in most organisations, but the meaning for
employees will often be around pay, promotion prospects, holidays and perks.
Investment in employees’ H&S is not a currency appreciated by staff as an indicator of
their worth to a company. So, in my view the Chief Exec has a vital role to play in
establishing a culture which prioritises H&S. It’s more than just having his or her
signature on a mandatory H&S policy. It’s about establishing unambiguous managerial
accountability, maintaining a regime of performance, monitoring, reporting and audit;
investing in training to the extent that responsibility can be extended (and I don’t mean
just delegated) down the organisation to the levels where exposure to risk is most acute.
And its about empowering staff to suspend work at any time they feel exposed to risks
that they’re not equipped to assess or mitigate.
What does that mean at JEC?
Structured quarterly meetings of the H&S Management Board chaired by the Chief
Executive at which all business unit Directors and our three H&S professionals report on
H&S performance across the Group, identify best practice, improvement strategies and
examine emerging international legislation and industry trends. H&S sub-committees
covering the whole organisation meet more frequently and feed into it. Thankfully, in the
absence of frequent accidents, the performance measures are concerned with inputs -
things like.
· Number of “toolbox talks” to staff · Number of site safety visits by managers · Number of site-specific and job-specific Risk Assessments by the people doing Our efforts are assisted by staff-appointed H&S Representatives in each business unit who are given more comprehensive H&S training and a mandate on top of their day job to be the conduit between our staff and management, through which all parties are held accountable for H&S performance. These reps will challenge their colleagues’ behaviour and actions and they’ll challenge managers equally. They’re empowered to intervene anywhere they consider to be a failure of policies, procedures or practices and can and do demand managerial action. I meet with them quarterly in the absence of managers for frank discussions on performance and attitudes. It took a long time for them to trust there’d be no reprisals from managers they reported as failing in their obligations, but I can honestly say there’s a mature, constructive atmosphere in these valuable sessions between us. I’ve mentioned that JEC’s blessed with three qualified H&S professionals. They provide or facilitate training for staff, H&S audits and advice to management on policy and practices. But importantly they are not responsible for H&S management – nothing they
do dilutes the absolute responsibility of managers for protecting our people’s H&S.
So this is the framework and culture within which JEC manages all aspects of H&S
performance, including asbestos, on which I’ll spend the final five minutes of my talk.
Like all power stations of its time, La Collette had virtually every surface of its boilers,
turbines and interconnecting pipework heat-insulated with asbestos material. For more
than 25 years we’ve been managing asbestos risk by a combination of surveys,
monitoring and controlling work in asbestos areas and removing asbestos wherever
possible and containing it wherever not. We have also applied asbestos management to
all other buildings we own, lease or occupy – electricity substation, offices and houses.
Further enhanced by the 2004 Codes of Practice introduced in Jersey, which compels
employers, owners, managing agents and landlords of premises to maintain asbestos
management plans, ours includes a register containing details of exact locations, types
and condition of asbestos in every building we’re involved with. In accordance with the
Codes, we keep a record for at least 40 years of employees who might have been exposed
to asbestos fibres in concentrations above a defined level, which triggers action to reduce
their exposure.
Asbestos areas identified in the register are prominently labelled and checked every six
months for any disturbance or deterioration which would call for removal or
encapsulation. In locations where we can anticipate work being done which could disturb
asbestos material we carry out monthly monitoring to determine fibre in air levels and we
have emergency procedures in place to safely contain any risk of contamination which
unexpectedly arises. All our staff working in asbestos-present premises are trained in
asbestos recognition and can and do call on the two of our H&S professionals who are
fully qualified analysts. They it was who, with the local H&S Authorities, were
instrumental in having a local cinema closed down for 6 months in 1999 due to
mismanagement of asbestos removal by a local asbestos removal company – who had
their licence to operate removed.
So asbestos management is serious stuff which needs prioritising across the Island’s
workforce and I very much welcome the initiative taken here today by the Jersey Safety
Council and the H&S Inspectorate, to raise awareness.
Thank you.


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