Memorandum by the Department of the Environment,
Transport and the Regions (HSE 21)
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has a
central role in enacting and enforcing the Government's policies
on health and safety. It is also responsible for enforcing health
and safety law. We welcome the Sub-Committee's interest in its
The HSE was established, together with the Health
and Safety Commission (HSC), under the Health & Safety at
Work Etc Act 1974. The Act defines the principal functions of
the HSC and HSE. In essence, the HSC provides advice to Ministers
on health and safety issues, issues Approved Codes of Practice
and provides Ministers with drafts of appropriate Regulations.
The HSE is the executive arm of the Commission and undertakes
research and formulates advice and guidance on behalf of the Commission.
The HSE, working in conjunction with local authorities, is also
the enforcement body, ensuring that health and safety legislation
is complied with.
Both the HSC and HSE are crown Non-Departmental
Public Bodies (NDPBs), operating at arm's length from Government.
Ministers appoint the Commissioners, but the Executive (which
statutorily consists of only three persons) is appointed by the
HSC. The HSC also sets the work programme for the HSE, which is
agreed by Ministers and who also have statutory powers of direction
(though these have never been exercised). Although HSE earn revenue
through charging for some of the services it provides, Ministers
also pay grant-in-aid. They also lay health and safety regulations,
consent to HSC Approved Codes of Practice, to charging regimes,
and exercise certain financial controls via a Financial Memorandum.
DETR is HSE's sponsor, though there are links
to other Departments, eg the Department of Trade & Industry
which is responsible for nuclear safety at licensed sites. Responsibility
for health and safety has not been devolved to either the Scottish
Parliament or the National Assembly for Wales and therefore the
work of the HSE covers the whole of Great Britain.
HSE has close links with the Environment Agency
in England and Wales and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency
(SEPA), not only because of the potential environmental implications
of health and safety failures in work places that handle particularly
hazardous or dangerous substances (eg chemicals), but more recently
through the Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Regulations
1999. Under these Regulations, the HSE, Environment Agency and
SEPA are jointly designated as the Competent Authority for authorising
and inspecting safety arrangements at establishments covered by
the COMAH Regulations.
Similarly, HSE has close links with local authorities
as the latter have responsibility for the enforcement of health
and safety legislation in shops, offices, distribution outlets,
hotels, restaurants, residential care homes and leisure centres.
The formal mechanism for this is the HSE/Local Authority Enforcement
Liaison Committee (HELA), though much informal contact is at inspector
level on a day-to-day basis. HSE provides guidance to local authorities
on their enforcement functions.
Much has been achieved since the 1974 Act. In
1998-99 the lowest ever number of deaths from direct workplace
accidents was recorded257. Injury rates continue to fall,
although certain sectors, such as agriculture and forestry, have
not demonstrated the marked reductions that other sectors have.
Over the last two years, Ministers have sought
to forge stronger links with the HSC and HSE. There is now more
regular contact (both formal and informal) between Ministers,
the Commissioners and the Executive. Health and safety has been
incorporated into the Government's social justice, competitiveness
and fairness at work agendas. Ministers have personally raised
the profile of health and safety, and have helped to spread the
message that "good health is good business" and increases
the competitiveness of UK firms.
All appointments to the HSC are now made in
accordance with guidance from the Office of the Commissioner for
Public Appointments. Ministers are pleased that the HSC is well
on its way to meeting the Government's targets for the representation
of women and ethnic minorities. The appointment of the new HSC
Chairman (from 1 October 1999), Bill Callaghan, was announced
following extensive advertising, formal selection and interviewing
of a number of candidates who met the criteria which appeared
in the advertisement. The process was overseen by an independent
assessor, who participated fully in selection and interviewing.
Under the Government's Comprehensive Spending
Review (CSR), additional grant-in-aid of £20.3 million over
the CSR period (1999-2000 to 2001-2002) has been made available
for the HSC/E. In addition, the Department has agreed with Treasury
that the anticipated additional revenue of up to £43 million
from the extension of its charging regime to the gas transportation,
offshore and railway industries can be retained by HSE. This enabled,
as a first step, an additional 70 inspectors to be recruited increasing
HSE's enforcement capabilities.
Revitalising Health and Safety
The Government is concerned that, although much
progress has been made since the 1974 Act, fatal injury rates
have become stuck on a plateau since the mid-1990s. The Deputy
Prime Minister decided to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1974
Act by commissioning a Strategic Appraisal, with the aim of injecting
new impetus into the health and safety agenda.
While the Government believes that the basic
framework of the 1974 Act has stood the test of time, this initiative
aims to identify new approaches, capable of delivering results
in the changing world of work with ever increasing numbers of
small firms: for example, by communicating more effectively the
message that good health and safety is good for business, competitiveness
and national prosperity. A Consultation DocumentRevitalising
Health and Safetywas launched, jointly with the Health
and Safety Commission, on 1 July. The consultation closes on 24
A major theme of the initiative is to maximise
the potential benefits from closer linkages between occupational
health and safety and other Government programmes, such as education
and public health, in order to achieve sustainable development.
Raising occupational health and safety standards also has an important
role to play in protecting the environment, by controlling emissions
and the use of dangerous substances in the workplace; and in promoting
competitiveness, by reducing the annual cost to the national economy
of occupational health and safety failures estimated at £11-16
billion. Consideration is also being given to how the interfaces
between policy-making at central, regional and local level might
be enhanced (local authorities have responsibility for the enforcement
of health and safety legislation in 1.2 million premises in Great
Britain). This work is guided by the objectives of the Modernising
Government White Paper on better joined-up strategic policy-making.
The positioning of health and safety within
the wider agenda on sustainable development may warrant particular
consideration by the Committee. The contribution of health and
safety to the social demension of a sustainable economy, by safeguarding
minimum standards at work, was highlighted in the sixth chapter
of the Sustainable Development Strategy White Paper A better
quality of life published in May 1999.
Public perception and expectations of the HSE
The Government is concerned that criminal penalties
for breaches of health and safety law do not always seem to match
the severity of the offence. It welcomes the recent judgement
of the Court of Appeal (R v F Howe & Son (Engineering) Ltd).
The Government is considering whether the maximum penalties should
The Strategic Appraisal, together with the appointment
of a new HSC Chairman, provides an ideal opportunity to consider
the public's perception and expectations of the HSE. Historically,
the HSE has been seen as the custodian of health and safety legislation:
undertaking routine inspections to determine compliance; investigating
high profile incidents (eg Flixborough, Kings Cross, Southall);
and prosecuting those who flout health and safety law. This "policing"
role, combined with resource constraints, has arguably inhibited
the development of a more customer-friendly and responsive aspect
to the work of HSE. Restrictions, under section 28 of the 1974
Act, on the disclosure of information have been a handicap. Ministers
are seeking to ensure that the Freedom of Information Bill will
result in useful changes which will allow HSC/E to be more open
and responsive to public expectations. Ministers fully support
the tough stance taken by inspectors in enforcing health and safety
law when undertaking visits. But they acknowledge the need to
raise public awareness of the advisory role of HSE and also, when
appropriate, for inspectors to adopt a "how can I help you"
attitude. A particular issue is how HSE can reach out and engage
small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in health and safety
issues. Ministers and Commissioners are aware of the logistical
difficulties of regularly inspecting the existing 3.7 million
SMEs and are considering how best to raise awareness of health
and safety in this particular sector.
Health and Safety Laboratory Estate Rationalisation
The Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL), an Agency
of the HSE, is seeking to rationalise its estate and collocate
to a single site. HSL and its tenants (420 staff in total, 260
in Sheffield and 160 at Buxton) occupy about 100 buildings and
structures in Sheffield and Buxton, most of which were constructed
between 1926 and 1980, and which costs some £3 million per
annum to manage, maintain and operate.
Accommodation-related costs are too high for
HSL to sustain in a competitive market: some of HSL's income is
derived from undertaking research for the private sector in competition
with other research establishments. Too much space is available
and inflexible (current assessment is that accommodation could
be reduced by more than 50 per cent in modern, purpose-built,
flexible buildings on one site), and many buildings and much of
the infrastructure are life-expired. The nature of some of the
research facilities at the Buxton site (eg explosives testing,
impact testing, testing of temporary structures) would make it
difficult and expensive to vacate this particular site.
HSL is looking to meet its future accommodation
needs via a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) project. Initial
PFI bids were received in October 1997 and were evalulated. Bidders
were invited in early 1998 to submit Revised Bids, and have been
evaluated. Best and Final Offers were received in July 1998 and
a preferred bidder was announced in November 1998.
The preferred bidder (Investors in the Community
(Buxton) LtdICB) is a joint venture between Rotch Property
Group and J Henry Schroder Ltd. P S Turner (Constructions) Ltd
and Symonds Facilities Management are also involved as constructor
and operator respectively. ICB propose to build, manage and operate
a new state-of-the-art laboratory on the Buxton site and redevelop
the vacated Sheffield site.
HSL is negotiating with ICB the terms of the
Concession Agreement and the detailed development and accommodation
requirements. Negotiations with the TU are underway on a relocation
package for staff who will have to move from Sheffield. The Final
Business Case will be prepared later this year and a Ministerial
decision on the project will be sought early in 2000. If Ministers
decide that the project should proceed, it is anticipated that
HSL would occupy the new laboratory by mid 2002.
The Government and DETR Ministers pushed hard
to outlaw the importation, supply and use of white absestos and
are delighted that HSC endeavours have concluded with a nation-wide
ban. HSC played a leading role in ensuring sound science on the
relative safety of alternatives to white asbestos was central
to the recent EU Directive.
The Government has acted swiftly to implement
the Directive. The ban will take effect in Britain in November
1999, five years ahead of the deadline set by the EU Directive.