Crisis of Health and Safety enforcement

Swindon TUC Press Release
27th April 2008

Representatives of Swindon Trades Union Council and the unions GMB, Unite and UNISON, met with Michael Wills MP to raise concerns regarding the crisis in enforcement of Health and Safety legislation, resulting from government policy. The meeting was organised as part of the programme of events taking place for Workers Memorial Day, when trades unions across the world highlight unecessary deaths and injuries in the workplace, often resulting from negligence or complete disregard by employers for the health and safety of their workers.

In a briefing produced for the meeting STUC highlighted the failures of the Health & Safety Executive (the body responsible for overseeing health and safety in the workplace). In large part this has resulted from relentless government cuts in funding and a major reduction in the number of workplace inspectors. The main Directorate of the HSE has seen a decline in inspectors from 916 in 2003 to 680 at the end of 2007. So great has been the decline in HSE activity that it is estimated that a workplace which could expect an HSE visit every 7 years now waits over 14 years.
(See https://swindontuc.files.wordpress.com/2008/04/hsbriefing.pdf )

The trades unions are calling for:

  • An end to the cuts in HSE funding – an increase in funds and numbers of safety inspectors;
  • The strengthening of the rights of workplace Health & Safety reps;
  • The introduction of ‘Roving Reps’ (or Workers Safety Advisors) to inspect workplaces where they do not work, including those where there is no union recognition.

The trades unions also highlighted a new report from the Department of Work and Pensions Parliamentary Committee which underlines what the unions have been saying. The report says:

“We believe that a under-resourced health and safety inspectorate has an impact on employer compliance and accident rates.”

“In addition to the lack of inspections, we conclude that current levels of fines for health and safety offences are too low and do not provide a sufficient deterant to ensure duty holders comply with their obligations.”

The report calls for more resources and more inspections to be carried out by the HSE, particularly in industries known to be more dangerous (e.g. the building industry accounts for 32% of workplace deaths).

When the HSE does make special efforts to inspect a particular industry or sector the results can expose a high level of employer negligence. For instance, when they carried out a safety “blitz” of refurbishment sites around the country (spot checks on 1,000 establishments) they had to stop work on 30% of them after serving 395 enforcement notices!

One of the main concerns that we highlighted to Mr Wills was the fact that even where H&S reps were recognised by a company, management often place obstacles in the way of the reps carrying out their role under the law. The situation in non-union workplaces, of course, is far worse.

Mr Wills made the commitment that he would raise breaches of Health & Safety legislation with local companies where these took place.

Swindon TUC Secretary Martin Wicks said:

“The meeting was the result of efforts to develop collaboration between unions to challenge local employers who fail to carry out their duties under Health & Safety law, and frustrate the efforts of recognised H&S reps to do their job.

Obviously we would advise workers who have concerns about health and safety in their workplace to contact their union where they have one.

However, we would be keen to hear from people about problems in their workplace, be they unionised or not, so that we can gather evidence to creat an accurate picture of the situation across workplaces in the town.”
 
Workers can email us on swindontuc@btinternet.com or ring us on 07786 394593 in complete confidence.

For information on Workers Memorial Day see http://www.hazards.org.wmd/index.htm

For further comment ring Martin Wicks on 07786 394593

Notes:
 
Fatalities are Up – 241 worker deaths in 2006/07 compared to 217 in 2005/06, an 11 % increase. It should be born in mind that workers (who drive for a living) who die in road accidents are not counted as ‘workplace deaths’.
 
Inspections are down – 41,496 HSE inspections in 2006/07 compared to 54,717 in 2005/06, a 24 per cent decrease. In 2001 workplaces could expect a visit every 7 years, This has now risen to every 14.5 years.
 
Investigations down – the proportion of reported serious injuries investigated by the HSE is down to 11% in 2005/06 from 13% the previous year.
 
Prosecutions remain low – 1,056 offences were prosecuted by HSE in 2005/06 compared to 1,320 in 2004/05, a fall of 20 per cent. Convictions dropped by 10 per cent. Provisional figures for 2006/07 show a minor improvement in prosecutions and convictions, but the last two years remain the worst on record.
 
Enforcement notices remain low – notices issued by HSE in 2005/06 compared to 8,471 in 2004/05, a fall of over 22 per cent. Prohibition notices were down by 18 per cent and improvement notices by 24 per cent. The provisional total notices figure rose to 8,071 in 2006/07, but the last two years remain the worst on record.
 
The HSE’s ‘decision reporting forms’ reveal the number of incidents so serious investigation should follow automatically but where no investigation has occurred because of “inadequate resources” has increased from 207 in 2005/05, to 255 in 2005/06 and to 307 in 2006/07.
 
There are serious concerns that the enforcement crisis at HSE will worsen, as further funding cuts bite. HSE has already lost over 250 jobs since April 2006 and faces a further 100 job losses in the second half of the financial year. HSE is grappling with the news that the anticipated 15 per cent budget cut by 2011 to meet Treasury efficiency targets may in fact be larger still.
 
Since 2002, HSE has lost over 1,000 posts as a result of government spending cuts; HSE union Prospect says the organisation now employs fewer than 3,250 staff, down from over 4,000 when Labour took office.

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