Memorandum by London Hazards Centre (HSE
Despite the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act
and all the recent European inspired Regulations, 4 million workers
each year suffer some form of work related ill-health. More workers
than those given in the official annual figures are killed in
incidents in connection with their work and 20,000 die from occupational
diseases. The prosecution level for breaking health and safety
laws is minimal and penalties for breacheseven if they
kill or maim workersare still derisory apart from a few
The level of workplace inspection carried out
by Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors is such that an
enterprise can wait seventeen years before it is visited. And
where there is HSE inspection some Inspectors are tardy in pursuing
Government has begun to reverse some of the
deficiencies of the last 20 years. Funding for the HSE has been
slightly improved following years of under-funding. HSE Inspectors
have been reminded of the requirement to consult with trade union
safety representatives in the workplace. The requirement for Inspectors
to advise employers in advance of an Improvement Notice being
served has been removed. The Government has clearly stated that
occupational safety and health is a priority and indicated to
the courts that penalties for offenders should be raised.
We welcome the efforts of Government so far
but urge greater speed and a higher priority for all occupational
safety and health issues. Government is keen to promote partnership
between workers and employers. The London Hazards Centre wants
to see the partnership deliver improved health and safety now,
for workers at risk to-day. It must be a partnership between equals.
The HSE has a role in ensuring that equality is maintained in
those workplaces where the employer is less than committed to
The current philosophy of partnership is acted
out by many employers as an abusive partnership that kills, maims
and diseases workers throughout the UK. The cost of industrial
disease and serious injuries at work is not only borne by the
victim but also by her/his family, who pay a terrible price. the
cost to the nation's economy, simply in terms of welfare benefits
and the burdens placed on the NHS, is estimated to be£16
billion plus each year. It amounts to a subsidy to industry for
their mismanagement and outright exploitation of workers. A similar
subsidy, in the spirit of partnership, must be made available
to workers in order to defend themselves from ill-health induced
by occupational injury.
In practical terms much more money to support
an effective and rigorous enforcement regime would be the obvious
starting place but more still needs to be done about the ethos
of the HSE if enhanced investment is to be really effective.
The current legal framework means that powers
of enforcement and prosecution are predominantly the prerogative
of HSE Inspectors and Environmental Health Officers. Private prosecutions
are very difficult and there is no right of appeal against the
decision of an enforcement officer not to prosecute. The London
Hazards Centre seeks a reform of health and safety law which would
allow trade union safety representatives to initiate prosecutions
against employers and which would establish the right of appeal
over an enforcement officer's decision not to take action or prosecute.
The LHC wants the consultation and representation
base on the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) to be developed
so that minority groups and interests are more effectively involved
and to counterbalance the overwhelming role of business. The CBI
has excessive influence over domestic legislation. The current
arrangements serve the interests of employers' organisations to
the detriment of working people.
All accidents occurring in connection with work
should be recorded as health and safety incidents. This must include
road traffic incidents involving workers driving in the course
of their employment or members of the public innocently injured
or killed in such incidents. These statistics must be added to
the other statistics on workplace deaths and injuries to give
a truer picture of the human costs of work.
HSE research shows that at least 75 per cent
of accidents and injuries are predictable and therefore preventable.
Under existing funding, most workplaces will rarely be inspected,
once in every 17 years. Although HSE Inspectors or Environmental
Health Officers can impose Prohibition and Improvement Notices,
this rarely occurs until there has been an incident. If safety
procedures within the workplace are not working properly, such
that a health and safety representative feels that workers are
at risk of injury or illness, the London Hazards Centre advocates
in the legal empowerment of the safety representative to serve
"Provisional Improvement Notice" (PINs) on their employers.
A copy of the PIN would be sent to the enforcement agency, and
requires the employer to act within a specified period. The London
Hazards Centre considers this would radically improve health and
safety management and reduce the likelihood of serious accidents
Senior managers in Inner London Probation Service
(ILPS), at a safety committee meeting, asked, "What do you
mean by risk assessement," when trade union representatives
pointed out the absence of risk assessments addressing violence
to officers engaged in their day-to-day duties in accordance with
section 3 of the MHSW Regs. The chair of the committee said "thats
just words". The HSE cannot be held accountable for the ignorance
of managers. However, we must ask why, in 1999, more than six
years after the legal requirement to carry out risk assessements
was introduced, a high profile and prestigious employer has not
been prosecuted for this failure. Particularly as their employees
work in an environment that brings them into daily contact with
the more violent members of our society. The HSE was not aware
of the omission by a service which operates in every part of the
The Medley Brothers, asbestos removal contractors,
were sentenced to community service orders for employing children
to remove asbestos in contravention of legislation. This act of
criminal violence must be compared with prison sentences visited
daily on young people for petty theft, criminal damage and assaults.
When the National Association of Probation Officers
were negotiating on introduction of new technology, Home Office
representatives claimed to be "outside the jurisdiction of
the HSE". The HSE obviously fails in its duty of enforcement
if this is the view of Government employees.
Many workers for the London Borough of Tower
Hamlets have developed occupational illness as a result of the
HSE's tardiness in initiating prosecution. Improvement Notices,
initially issued in 1996 and occasionally since then, have been
ignored by the Chief Executive and senior staff. The HSE's response
has been to allow more and more time. More than 30 workers have
developed respiratory disorders as a consequence of management's
failure to address the sick building syndrome identified.
A senior HSE Representative, speaking this year
at a London Conference for TU safety representatives, said that
"new powers for TU safety representatives" would lead
to employers "dumping" their responsibilities on the
safety representatives. This is a naive position. It demonstrates
a partial attachment to the current "status quo" in
senior management HSE thinking.
The HSE is not geared to deal with the changes
to workplace practice that "new management" techniques
(very similar in outcome to old style cowboys) have made to the
working environment. Simon Jones, a young casual worker, was killed
in a workplace "accident" on his first day of work at
Shoreham Docks. He had received no training, no induction, no
sight of risk assessments covering the job he was expected to
do but was, simply, put to work. He died as a result of a dangerous
system of work.
The HSE has recently committed some resources
to developing policy on the dangers associated with, so- called,
modern "human resource" management systems such as "casualisation",
this is far too late in the day for thousands of workers whose
health has been damaged.
South-West Trains ignored research data and
recommendations from the 1970s when drawing up train drivers'
duty rosters following privatisation. Requests, by a train drivers'
safety representative for the risk assessment on driver fatigue,
were parried by SWT management who said rosters were "approved
by the HSE" and that a "risk assessment was unnecessary".
Investigation by the safety representative showed the claim to
be true. Risk assessment on driver fatigue will now be conducted
but only because of the tenacity of a lay trade union safety representative
in the face of management hostility, not because of the vigilance
of the guardian of workers' and public safety, the HSE.
The HSE largely determines local government,
environmental health, enforcement policy. Local government enforcement
of health and safety legislation is poor.
The HSE are unable or unwilling to protect workers
and safety representatives, who raise health issues at work, from
victimisation at the hands of their employers.
The HSE must abandon its employer bias and improve
the monitoring of an inspectors' evaluation of health and safety
management systems following workplace visits.
HSE and trade union safety representatives must
be empowered to deal with all current deficiencies of health and
safety management arising from modern work methods, ie casualisation,
sub-contracting, downsizing, outsourcing etc, all which disempower
workers and put their health in jeopardy.
The HSE should have greater resources to investigate
instances of, not only workplace accidents, but occupational illness.
The HSE must develop a working philosophy firmly
rooted in the "preventative principle" ie if it is not
definitely known whether work methods, equipment or materials
are safe then they are treated as hazardous until the actual effects
are firmly established. Their current reactive practice of responding
to worker injury must be eradicated.
Effective links must be established by the HSE
with other government agencies and departments. Virtually no doctors
ask about the work a person does when patients demonstrate symptoms
with known occupational causes. The occupational health links
of disease, ill-health and injury are too low down the Department
of Health's agenda.
The HSE must demand high fines from sentencing
courts; too often when consulted inspectors recommend/accept low
levels of fines.
Government must implement stronger laws that
ensure that senior managers and directors can no longer evade
imprisonment for failures of health and safety management.
HSE inspectors must be subjected to mandatory
requirements to contact trade union safety representatives and
to provide them with information and reports. Their current practice
fails to involve safety representatives sufficiently.