Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by London Hazards Centre (HSE 15)


  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 breaches—even if they kill or maim workers—are still derisory apart from a few notable exceptions.

  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 legal breaches.

  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 partnership.

  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 and injury.


  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 UK.

  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.

September 1998

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 26 October 1999