Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by the Construction Confederation (HSE 16)

  The Construction Confederation is the main representative organisation for the UK construction industry, one of the largest and most diverse sectors within the British economy. The Confederation represents over 5,000 construction companies who between them carry out over 75 per cent of the total turnover of the industry. The Confederation comprises eight constituent organisations: British Woodworking Federation, Civil Engineering Contractors Association, Federation of Building Specialist Contractors, House Builders Federation, Major Contractors Group, National Federation of Builders, National Contractors Federation, Scottish Building Employers Federation. The following response is made on behalf of the above-mentioned organisations.

  The Health and Safety Executive has an extremely visual presence within the construction industry. The majority of medium sized and large contractors encounter HSE inspectors at some point in time, either when requesting advice or information, or through enforcement action taken by HSE. Therefore, many of Construction Confederation members have a great deal of experience of working with HSE.

  Unfortunately the lack of construction inspectors in the field does mean that many smaller organisations do not come across HSE inspectors in the course of their activities. This lack of face to face contact with HSE has lead to a disparity in the way health and safety is enforced and it is felt that this does not create a level playing field across industry. The result is breaches of health and safety requirements, and, unscrupulous employers are not informed of their responsibilities, nor is their health and safety performance enforced in the way that it should be.

  On a day to day basis we have found the majority of HSE inspectors reasonable in their enforcement action and helpful in their advice and assistance, and we do believe that they are fulfilling the role for which they were intended. Recent guidance documents, relevant to the construction industry and produced by HSE, have been particularly useful. The majority of respondents felt that these documents explain the legal requirements and clarify the actions companies must take to ensure that they comply with current health and safety legislation. The industry is widely consulted on these documents and in general they are felt to be very useful. A small minority of respondents felt that HSE guidance documents are often too long and are more detailed than is really necessary.

  The current "Working Well Together Campaign" is an initiative that demonstrates where HSE, industry and employees can work together in improving and raising standards in health and safety. The recent National launches of this campaign have been successful as a result of HSE as well as industry input. These successes demonstrate that HSE are prepared to educate all sectors and tiers of the industry and do see the necessity in changing the culture of the construction industry.

  Bodies such as CONIAC play a huge part in promoting health and safety within industry. The support HSE provides and the information discussed at IAC's is a most important function.

  Much of the success of HSE we believe is due to their independence. We are of the firm opinion that HSE should remain independent and must not become funded by a levy or some other imposed charge. The success of HSE is clearly demonstrated by the continuing reduction in accidents within the United Kingdom and the UK's overall performance in health and safety when compared to other European countries.

  However, HSE is known to be under funded for the role which it is expected to fulfill, it is believed if HSE were resourced properly they would be in a position to provide more advice and assistance and in particular more HSE inspectors in field operations.

  There were a number of concerns regarding certain aspects of HSE performance. We do feel that the policy departments and sectors within HSE have different goals, which does not assist industry, eg The recent Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) were clearly implemented to satisfy European requirements rather than to implement good health and safety legislation and raise standards within the UK.

  When new legislation is introduced it must be written in an appropriate and practical way and industry need time to absorb and interpret legislation prior to its implementation. Both PUWER and LOLER (The Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998) came into force before the Regulations and Codes of practice were actually published. Introducing legislation in this manner causes confusion, misunderstanding and frustration. Without adequate preparation time, industry cannot be expected to train its workforce, ensure all equipment is compliant and implement new safe working practices that comply with the requirements of the Regulations.

  Once new legislation or new guidance is introduced HSE are not forthcoming on their enforcement policy. On a recent occasion it took an exchange of three letters and a further phone call to identify to which guidance document HSE will be enforcing on a particular issue. In the current environment of open government the enforcement policy of HSE should be made available to all concerned to ensure that all of industry (and all of HSE) is working to the same standard.

  We would make similar comments regarding the availability of the HSE enforcement handbook. On occasions we have been concerned that individual inspectors are not following the procedures laid down within this handbook. However, as the enforcement handbook is not freely available to the public, organisations cannot verify the guidelines to which inspectors should be working. We have experienced incidents where witness statements were not provided to the witness on their request. This action is not in accordance with the contents of the HSE enforcement handbook. Unfortunately the only guidelines on this matter are contained within the handbook.

  An area of particular concern that was raised by all respondents during this consultation was the consistency of enforcement by HSE inspectors across the UK. We do accept that HSE Inspectors have to deal with a variety of situations many which require immediate action however, it is felt that on the majority of issues enforcement by HSE must be consistent across the UK. At the present time different HSE regions demonstrate clear differerences in their policy and this is not acceptable. An example of this is the use of roof nets within construction. It depends upon which region of the UK you are working as to whether roof nets are expected to be used and how they are to be used. This creates great difficulties. Those organisations that work nationally find themselves working to different standards in different areas of the Country. Those organisations within a particular area may experience greater costs due to an inspectors whim if he has different standards to colleagues. This does not create a level playing field and leads to inconsistent standards across the UK.

  It would appear that in certain cases very little guidance is given to HSE inspectors and that where this is available it is not always applied. However, we are aware that inspectors are given guidance on specific issues and we believe that this reinforces our previous point; if we were all aware of current enforcement policy these regional inconsistencies would be reduced. We have on occasions requested details of the specific training given to HSE inspectors; this would ensure that industry is working to the standards to which HSE is expecting their inspectors to enforce. This information was not available or was not provided.

  This lack of consistency causes further problems under the current regime of risk assessment where individuals are expected to identify risks and implement appropriate control measures or procedures. Lack of practical knowledge by some inspectors and their ability to move away from HSE enforcement policy can result in the common sense approach which sometimes conflicts with legislation. Risk assessment is intended to ensure that the most appropriate solution is used in each instance, however, HSE do always accept what is industry best practice if it does not comply with the letter of the law, even if it provides a safer system of work. On occasions this has led to an unsafe system of work being used merely to comply with the HSE interpretation of the law.


  The Health and Safety Executive is felt to be a necessity in enforcing health and safety within industry and must remain independent.

  When properly resourced the advice and guidance that HSE provides can be excellent, however we are aware that HSE is currently under resourced and are therefore not enforcing and providing the advice of which it is capable.

  There does appear to be conflicting interests in implementing good legislation and ensuring that industry has sufficient time to use the legislation to improve standards of health and safety. There is no benefit to thrusting new health and safety requirements upon an industry if it is not allowed time to comply.

  The biggest concern is the inconsistency of interpretation and enforcement by HSE personnel. This could be addressed to a certain extent by HSE enforcement policy being freely available to industry.

September 1999

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Prepared 26 October 1999