Health and safety laboratory centenary

Speech by the Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP

I am honoured to be here to say congratulations on 100 years of the Health and Safety Laboratory.

I know we have a full itinerary today and I am very much looking forward to seeing first hand some of the work you do.

We are here to mark the centenary of a health and safety orientated facility at this site.

The first research centre to be based here was, of course, nothing like the high-tech laboratory we have today.

The Home Office Experimental Station - as it was initially named - was a single issue, single industry focused centre, set up entirely to investigate explosions in coal mines.

I am sure that its founder, the then Home Secretary Sir Winston Churchill, would require a little more scotch with his water if he could see the breadth of work today’s laboratory is involved in.

This facility is at the forefront of health and safety in the UK; investigating major incidents, researching future technologies and providing practical solutions for industry.

I want this work to continue for another 100 years.

But just as today’s lab has grown, from the original Experimental Station of 1911, into a facility with the widest science base of any equivalent laboratory in Europe, so must it adapt to the challenges of the future.

We are maintaining protection for people at work, whilst reducing unnecessary red tape.

We are reducing the burden on low risk business.

We are re-focusing resources in to high risk areas.

And we are committed to developing a fair and proportionate health and safety regime.

At the same time we are restoring stability to the UK economy by reducing public spending and dealing with the deficit.

This means the Health and Safety Laboratory, like many Government agencies, must also make some tough budgetary decisions.

But I have every confidence that you will rise to the challenges of today, just as you have risen to the challenges of the past.

But what of the future? And the next 100 years?

The Health and Safety Laboratory has proven it is more than capable of adapting to the changing priorities of successive Governments.

It has also demonstrated immense skill in adapting to changing work places and ever-changing health and safety concerns.

From coal mining to Second World War anti-aircraft shells to hydrogen fuels, the service has provided solutions to some of the most difficult health and safety issues we have faced and continue to face.

This ability to adapt will see the Laboratory through this current period of change and ensure it remains one of the most important health and safety facilities in the country.

And I think the reason the Laboratory has so successfully adapted to new challenges, new technologies, and new priorities, is that the key aims of your work have remained the same.

And they are very simple.

The goal of this laboratory’s work has always been to ensure that more people are able to go home safe at the end of their working day.

This must continue to be at the heart of your work.

But I am also encouraged by the real focus on business and industry that this facility so obviously has.

This emphasis on practical solutions chimes very closely with my own thinking on health and safety issues.

The work you do must support future technology, not restrict it.

It must encourage innovation and entrepreneurial activity, not restrain it.

It must enable Britain to work better.

I can see the aspiration the Health and Safety Laboratory has to achieve this.

I know over the last five years the laboratory has increased its revenue from non-government sources by 83 per cent to £5.7 million.

This represents around 20 per cent of the laboratory’s total income.

But it is just four per cent of the £200 million non-government UK Health and Safety market.

The ambition is there. Now is the time to deliver.

The Health and Safety Laboratory’s annual report, published just this morning, notes that the organisation submitted £20 million worth of formal bids to the market in the last financial year - up by 25 per cent on the previous year.

I know you do some fantastic work with the private sector such as the work for Shell on the safety of hydrogen when refuelling vehicles.

I am especially impressed by the research you carry out into future technologies and processes before they are implemented and the impact this has on business.

Your approach balances the need to quickly deliver major technological advances whilst reducing the risk to businesses and their employees that something will go wrong.

The areas you are working in now; biomaterials, carbon capture and storage, and nanomaterial will be the industries of the future.

The work this laboratory carries out for industry accelerates the contribution new technology makes to national productivity and wider economic prosperity.

One of the most innovative aspects of your approach is the broad range of sciences you work across.

This allows you to increase the benefits to business, by taking the lessons learned in one area and applying them to another.

This allows firms to avoid costly learning curves by using research undertaken and knowledge gathered in other sectors that they may never have otherwise been aware of.

We have to continue to sell this innovation to UK Plc and the rest of the world.

I want to help the Health and Safety Laboratory get the recognition it so rightly deserves as a world class facility.

I want to support you to build your reputation as a centre of technical excellence so that the laboratory is able to generate additional work from both the public and private sector.

I want next year’s annual report to say bids were up again on this year and that the Health and Safety Laboratory’s market share has increased yet further.

I know that currently Eddie and the rest of Laboratory management are developing a plan for this expansion.

I fully support this work and I look forward to seeing the plan when it is produced next month.

In the meantime, I am sure that under Eddie’s guidance the Laboratory will continue to tackle some of the most difficult and dangerous health and safety issues at work.

My message is simple - apply common sense, support employers as well as employees, innovate and create practical solutions for both the private and public sector.

And enjoy your centenary.

I know the highly professional team here will continue to work hard to ensure the safety of the UK’s work force now and in the future.

So, in another 100 years, another Minister can stand up and tell another audience about how the Health and Safety Laboratory adapted to the challenges it faced in 2011 to become one of most important players in the UK health and safety market.

Published 1 July 2011