Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by the Confederation of British Industry (HSE 17)

  1.  The Confederation of British Industry (CBI)—with a direct membership employing over four million and a trade association membership representing over six million of the workforce—is the premier organisation speaking for business in the UK. The CBI welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the Environment Sub-committee on the Health and Safety Executive.

  2.  The CBI is actively involved in the work of the Health and Safety Commission and Executive, providing briefing to the employer Commissioners, nominations for the advisory committees, and respond to consultations.


  3.  The CBI believes that the existence of an independent and well funded HSE is the most effective way of regulating health and safety to a high standard and has played a key role in the success achieved thus far. The separation between the HSE and the DETR is important because it ensures that the HSE is, and is perceived to be, independent of direct government influence, it strengthens the tripartite partnership of the HSC/E, and provides stability and consistency in the development of health and safety legislation. In addition, the existence of an independent body raises the profile of health and safety and "carries the flag" for health and safety.

  4.  However, the CBI believes that there is scope for greater co-ordination between HSE and other government departments, particularly where there are overlapping responsibilities. The CBI believes that the HSE approach to risk based regulation could usefully be applied to other regulatory regimes and welcomes the HSE's participation in the interdepartmental group on risk assessment which is working towards a common interpretation of risk across government. The CBI also welcomes the moves towards adoption of risk based approaches to fire safety and environmental regulation which assists in creating consistent approach with health and safety. Health and safety regulations, environment regulations and others are ultimately applied by business to one process and therefore require one solution. This needs to be recognised by regulators if they are to avoid conflicting and duplicating requirements.

  5.  Furthermore, improved communication and consistency across regulatory areas would enable government to move towards a "first stop shop approach" to regulation which would ease the burden of regulation on business, particularly on small firms. Business is not able to look at health and safety in isolation, rather it manages health and safety within the wider business management process, together with other facets of management eg environment. Business needs to have regulatory contacts who can provide specialist advice but they also need to have a simple way of accessing government. The CBI therefore favours a "first stop shop" approach which brings together the expertise of a wide range of officials, through a single contact point.

  6.  The CBI also believes that the separation between policy and enforcement, represented by the HSC and HSE, combined with the close links between the two organisations has resulted in effective and independent policy. The independence, effectiveness and integrity of the HSE is essential for business to demonstrate publicly it credibility in the health and safety area. The separation of the HSC and HSE ensures this integrity and independence while enabling business to participate in a tripartite system which ensures that regulations are reasonable and practical. Furthermore, the close links between the HSC and HSE informs the debate by providing practical advice and experience to policy makers, identifying key hazards and operational issues. This structure has worked effectively for 25 years, and has adapted and continues to be able to adapt to changing social and economic conditions.


  7.  The CBI believes that the legal requirement to consult on health and safety has been the trigger for a culture of consultation within the HSE which has benefited all stakeholders. This has had the effect of including a wide range of opinions such as employees, employers, scientists, academics etc into the policy formulation and development process. This has also assisted business compliance by giving business early warning of proposals which allows them to spread the costs of compliance. Furthermore the process of consultation enables government to make the argument for new regulation which can influence behaviour before regulations are introduced.

  8.  The CBI believes that the current legislative structure provides comprehensive protection for employees, working in a variety of circumstances. Changing patterns of employment has thrown up some challenges such as contractorisation and the growth of small firms but the CBI believes that the current regulatory system can be applied to these new circumstances by supplementary guidance and by directing the HSE's promotional activities to these areas.

  9.  In the DETR discussion document "Revitalising Health and Safety" it is noted that declines in accident and incident rates have plateau-ed in recent years. The CBI believes that in the light of the introduction of the framework directive and supplementary directives and the development over the last ten years of an extensive body of health and safety regulation, HSE should now shift its focus from policy to greater promotion and enforcement activities in order to improve standards. The CBI welcomes the opportunity to work with the HSE on its occupational health agenda but it is essential that any regulatory proposals which are brought forward are based on sound science rather than speculation or unfounded public concerns. It is also important that HSE restricts its activities to those relating to workplace health and safety, rather than being diverted into lifestyle issues or public education. The CBI agrees that HSE should support government initiatives to raise risk awareness in children but the CBI would not wish the HSE's limited resources to be diluted by activities which are not part of its core responsibilities.


  10.  The CBI has welcomed the application of the principles of open government to the HSE in the areas of enforcement and policy making. The CBI believes that the advisory committee systems of the HSC/E is an essential element of the HSC/E's success in policy formulation and promotion of standards. The CBI supports increased openness on these committees eg inclusion of public interest representatives, open meetings, making results of the meetings available as long as it does not infringe on the openness and quality of the discussion at the meeting. The CBI believes that the subject and nature of the advisory committees mean that each one should determine the way in which they increase openness. For example, the CBI agrees that on some committees where there is a compelling public interest, it is appropriate to have a public interest representative but this person should be capable of making useful contributions to the debate and considering the issues objectively and without their own agenda. In addition, the CBI does not think it would be appropriate in all cases to have open meetings, if they would inhibit full and frank discussion. In such cases, regular public meetings might be more appropriate where representatives could address questions and concerns of the public. The CBI also supports the current system of included annotated agendas on the website as this provides information without inhibiting discussion at meetings or the completion of full and accurate minutes.


  11.  The function of the HSE is principally to monitor compliance with the law, primarily offering advice and assistance to businesses and taking enforcement action when necessary in a way which is proportionate, objective and consistent. The CBI believes that the effective working relationship between HSE and business at all levels from policy to enforcement is critical to the successful management of the UK's health and safety standards and should be guarded. The Government recently introduced charges for certain functions undertaken by the HSE, namely enforcement of the COMAH regulations and on rail, offshore and gas transportation sites. The CBI has expressed on several occasions its concern regarding the effect that the introduction of charges will have on the relationship between operators and inspectors in these high hazard industries. In particular we are concerned that the introduction of charges for the provision of certain advice will dissuade businesses from asking advice and therefore diminish standards. We are also concerned that the payments to HSE will reduce the budget available to businesses, particularly small businesses to make real health and safety improvements. Finally, the CBI is concerned that the submission of invoices, on a full cost recovery basis, will result in conflicts about over-enforcement and inaccurate billing which will lead to relationships between operators and inspectors deteriorating and have a detrimental effect on the quality of enforcement. The CBI has been working closely with HSE officials to try and mitigate the negative effects of the introduction of charges through industry/government review groups and will be monitoring the effects closely over the next few years.

September 1999

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