Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by Georgia Gill (HSE 10)

  1.  I would like to draw the Sub-committee's attention to a Channel 4 "Dispatches" programme, which was shown on 6 May 1999, called "Bosses in the Dock" and which listed the 10 companies with the worst health and safety records in the UK. The work of the HSE featured prominently in this programme, and highlighted its deficiencies. I would recommend that the Sub-committee views this programme.

  The following points were made:

    (a)  Companies often break health and safety rules—putting employees and the public at risk.

    (b)  It is HSE's job to investigate deaths, injuries and incidents etc, and, if it finds health and safety laws have been broken, to prosecute the offender.

    (c)  HSE investigations appear to be of a very low standard.

    (d)  More than 20,000 people suffer major injury at work every year.

    (e)  One way to measure a company's performance is to count the number of times it and its subsidiaries have been convicted for breaking health and safety laws. Figures for convictions have never been collated centrally.

    (f)  The programme makers analysed every HSE prosecution for the preceeding 10 years and catalogued a further 100,000 significant incidents recorded in HSE's files.

    (g)  There are no excuses for breaking health and safety laws—the more dangerous the work the more important it is to obey the law, and emphasised that health and safety offences are criminal offences.

    (h)  HSE's prohibition notices are clear warnings that a company is failing in its duty eg failing to make an area safe, failing to prevent injury to workers, endangering workers.

    (i)  When an ordinary person appears in court, it is standard procedure, before sentence is passed, to bring all previous convictions to the court's attention. However, HSE is not allowed to bring the record of an entire group of companies to the attention of the court, but is only allowed to tell the court of previous convictions of that individual company within the group. It appears that the HSE is failing to do even this. It would seem that it is okay to be a repeat offender when the offence is in the context of industry.

    (j)  The HSE fails to investigate the vast majority of potentially criminal conduct. In the preceeding two years, over 46,000 major injuries had been reported to the HSE; nearly 90 per cent of these had never been investigated.

    As an example, British Steel workers had 25 amputations in two years (including foot and lower limb). Yet HSE investigated only one of these (a finger).

    (k)  Prosecutions result in very low fines eg Tarmac's average annual profits = £184 million. Its average fine following a death = £11,500.

    (l)  Even when HSE does investigate, 90 per cent of investigations end with a decision not to prosecute eg with one company—BPB—a QC said there was a constant pattern of the same thing happening, showing a complete disregard for the safety of individual workers, and yet HSE did not prosecute.

  2.  As a member of the public, I have had dealings with the HSE in connection with a local factory. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the HSE has a duty of care to people off-site in addition to the workers on-site. Under Human Rights legislation we are entitled to certain information. The HSE is failing in both regards eg we have been trying for six years to find out what chemicals are being burnt in the local cement works, toxicological data etc. HSE won't tell us—they say they don't know. They should know. And we are entitled to this information.

  3.  It would appear that the HSE is failing badly in carrying out its legal responsibilities both on and off sites. It would appear to be either:

    (a)  under-manned and under-resourced; or

    (b)  just plain negligent.

  4.  I hope the sub-committee will address the following:

    (a)  Whether the ethos of the HSE—its failure to carry out its functions—is attributable to its culture or to its being under-manned and under-resourced.

    (b)  The serious problem of low fines imposed by the courts.

    (c)  The serious problem of HSE's not being allowed to bring all previous convictions of an entire group of companies to the attention of the court.

    (d)  I understand that HSE reports following any of its investigations are confidential. It should be a requirement that all investigation reports be in the public domain.

September 1999

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