Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by Water UK (HSE 12)


  1.  Water UK welcomes the Sub-committee's inquiry into the work of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and are pleased to submit this short memorandum in support of the Executive and to reinforce the existing regulatory framework.

  2.  Our members are all of the water and sewerage suppliers in the United Kingdom (with the exception of Mid Kent Water and Cholderton Water) and they have statutory duties to supply water and to collect and treat sewage. The legal arrangements under which these duties are performed differ between England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland but Water UK presents its views in this memorandum on behalf of all of its members.

  3.  The nature of our members' core businesses can have a significant effect on public health as well as the safety, health and welfare of their 45,000 strong direct workforce and an estimated further 200,000 indirect workforce employed on construction and process activities. The undertaking of that business requires our members to have regard for both the safety of their workforce and the public at large. Water UK is therefore in an excellent position to comment on the work of the HSE with whom we and our predecessor organisations have collaborated intensively for a number of years to reduce the incidence of accidents and occupational ill health in the water industry.


  4.  Informal co-operation between the water industry and the HSE has been in being for a large number of years. The publication of the Health and Safety at Work Act in 1974 coincided with the formation of the ten Regional Water Authorities in England and Wales and the formation of the National Water Council.

  5.  Co-operation between the HSE and the National Water Council's Joint Health and Safety Committee for the Water Service resulted in the publication of six Health and Safety Guidelines between March 1979 and April 1983 and four Employers Guidelines in 1983. The Committee had representatives from the employers' and the employees' sides of the water industry and guidance covered a range of subjects from "Safety representatives and safety committees" to "Safety in electric fishing operations" and "Safety when hosing or spraying sludge to land near overhead electric power lines".

  6.  At the same time the National Water Council and its successor the Water Authorities Association, together with the Water Companies Association, organised the Water Industry Forum for Health and Safety which published a series of Advisory Broadsheets with the co-operation of the HSE between 1977 and 1989.

  7.  Since that time Water UK and its predecessor organisations, the Water Services Association and the Water Companies Association, have formed a more formal liaison with the HSE through its Utilities National Interest Group and this has resulted in the publication of three occasional health and safety guidance notes covering "Health hazards of work involving exposure to sewage", "Radon in air" and "Public access to open reservoirs". These documents contain risk assessment and control criteria agreed with the HSE. Therefore as well as being made available to the water industry, they have also been distributed to HSE local inspectors so that they share a common understanding of the subjects with the water industry.

  8.  This formal liaison is achieved by having David Left, the Head of the HSE Utilities National Interest Group (HSE UNIG), as a member of the Water UK Health and Safety Horizontal Group. We believe that we are the only trade association to invite HSE to fully participate in this way and we are said to be leading the way for future industrial relations between regulators and the UK economy. Horizontal Groups at Water UK are formed for the important aspects of water industry business which span over two or more business areas. To facilitate sensible training policies regarding health and safety, a representative of Water Training International (WTI) is also a member of the Health and Safety Horizontal Group. WTI is the successor to the Water Industry Training Board. The synergy produced by having the regulator, the regulated and the training provider working in close co-operation has resulted in a number of achievements.


  9.  In order that the whole of the UK water industry can be kept informed of the results of the close liaison between Water UK and HSE UNIG a Health and Safety Network has been formed among Water UK members. The network can communicate quickly through e-mail and facsimile and has a significant health and safety incident reporting system in place.

  10.  When the water industry began their formal liaison with HSE UNIG in 1994 this encouraged a close relationship with Mr Frank Davies, the Chairman of the Health and Safety Commission, and this relationship, in turn, resulted in the undertaking of the "Frank Davies Project" which had as its strategic objective:

    To indentify accident and ill health costs in the water industry and promote the commercial case for health and safety management.

  11.  Close co-operation between HSE UNIG and the water industry through the Frank Davies Project resulted in the following definitions being agreed for the project:

    Work accident: An unplanned event that could result in injury to an employee.

    Work related ill health: An evident reduction in the health of an employee confirmed by an Occupational Health professional as being due, or partly due, to working conditions.

  12.  Against these definitions the representative cost of a work accident was calculated to be £3,580 for the water industry and the representative cost of an incidence of work related ill health was calculated to be £8,650.

  13.  In order to demonstrate the commercial case for health and safety management the final report of the project has been widely distributed and promoted within the water industry. South West Water, who managed this water industry wide project on behalf of Water UK, have since given presentations at fora within many other industries to share ideas about leading-edge health and safety management.

  14.  WTI in co-operation with HSE UNIG and the water industry have held Health and Safety days at their management centre at Tadley Hall. These seminars have been aimed at both senior managers and health and safety practitioners within the water industry and from the industry's contractors and suppliers.

  15.  Since it was agreed in April 1999, HSE UNIG and the Water UK Health and Safety Horizontal Group are working to "Water Ahead" their strategic plan for joint liaison a copy of which accompanies this memorandum for the information of the Sub-committee. The concept of agreeing long-term regulatory priorities in this way has since been taken up by some of the trade bodies representing other industries.

  16.  "Water Ahead" contains the following key objectives:

    —  Improving communications and working with industry;

    —  Raising the profile of health and safety management;

    —  Occupational health strategy for Great Britain;

    —  Dealing with change;

    —  Improving consistency;

    —  Gaining intelligence;

    —  Monitoring new developments.

  17.  Within the strategy of "Water Ahead", the Water UK Health and Safety Horizontal Group and the HSE UNIG are currently co-operating through focus groups on the holding of a health and safety week in the year 2000, earth bonding of water service pipes, confined spaces procedures and benchmarking of health and safety management systems. In addition, the water industry has made a commitment to a 10 year Occupational Health Strategy which will be project managed for Water UK by the Chair of its Health and Safety Horizontal Group in partnership with the HSE Health Directorate.


  18.  Water UK draws the following conclusions from its relationship with the HSE:

    —  The HSE through its UNIG are willing to co-operate with Water UK on health and safety initiatives and policies with the potential to influence the working lives of circa 245,000 direct and indirect employees with a knock-on effect assisting many other industries.

    —  Co-operation between regulators, the regulated and training providers is productive and leads to mutual understanding of each others ambitions. This has been linked to clear agreed deliverables.

    —  Water UK are pleased to be quoted by HSE as a good example of HSE/industry co-operation to other utilities and industry in general.

  19.  Water UK commends to the Environment Sub-committee the attitude of the HSE to co-operation and consultation with the water industry. We welcome any opportunities to contribute to further developments, by presenting evidence to the Sub-Committee should they wish it, sharing our perception of internal changes in HSE and how they affect our industry.

September 1999

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Prepared 26 October 1999