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
rulesputting 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 lawsthe 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 companyBPBa 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 usthey
say they don't know. They should know. And we are entitled to
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
(a) Whether the ethos of the HSEits
failure to carry out its functionsis 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.