Health and Safety Executive Chair awarded honorary degree
17 November 2011
Head of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Judith Hackitt CBE, has been awarded an honorary doctorate in Engineering by Leeds Metropolitan University as part of the International Graduation celebrations.
Judith battled against stereotypes to become a chemical engineer, after studying at Imperial College, London, as one of only four female students in her cohort. On completion of her degree, she joined Exxon Chemical in 1975 as a graduate engineer. Judith rapidly rose through a series of promotions, including taking on responsibility for process safety at Fawley, the largest oil refinery in the UK.
Judith commented: “I feel honoured to receive this award at such a lovely campus. Over the last 30 or 40 years the improvement in health and safety has been truly remarkable. Great Britain is one of the best countries in the world in matters of health and safety but we do still face considerable challenges. One of the reasons I went into my career is that I care about science, education and innovation. The challenges that face graduates today may be very different to those that I faced when I set out into the workplace but many of today’s challenges can be solved by science and technology. I hope that all the graduates here today can find careers where that feel passionate about.”
Judith went on to work as European Operations Director of a speciality pigments business before becoming Group Risk Manager at Elementis PLC with world-wide responsibility for health and safety, insurance and litigation..,She has also held the post of Director General at the Chemical Industries Association, representing the interests of a key sector in the UK economy with a turnover exceeding £57 billion and more than 180,000 employees.
Judith left the Chemical Industries Association in 2006 to become the Implementation Director for the Chemistry for Europe project at the European Chemical Industry Council, and took a leading role in developing the REACH regulations, the European Union standards for the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals.
Having served on the Health and Safety Commission 2002 to 2005, in 2008, Judith became the first Chair of the Health and Safety Executive after its merger with the Health and Safety Commission. Also in 2008, Judith became a council member of the Institution of Chemical Engineers and was made a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineers in 2010.
An initiative with the Institution of Chemical Engineers saw Judith become a hit on YouTube, setting fire to her hands in front of a classroom of schoolchildren who were stunned to discover that science lessons could be exciting. In 2009, she starred in a TV debate about ‘cotton wool’ kids, arguing convincingly for practical experiments in the classroom rather than sterile theory sessions.
Judith’s dedication to her work has not gone unrecognised and in 2006 she was awarded a CBE for services to health and safety.
International Graduation took place on Wednesday 16 November at the University’s Headingley Campus.