Select Committee on Work and Pensions Fourth Report


  205.  The current HSC/E strategy recognises 'the need to do more to make health and safety and its benefits more widely understood and accepted.'[352] Awareness raising is particularly important for sSmall and medium enterprises (SMEs) who have lower levels of awareness and for whom awareness is a pre-requisite for compliance. There is clearly much to do to raise awareness. In a survey conducted for HSE, for example, only 43% of employers said they were aware of the management regulations.[353]


  206.  The literature review conducted to underpin HSC's strategy concluded that no one activity (education, incentives, reputational risk, supply chain pressure, inspection and enforcement) is particularly effective for small firms:

  207.  A multi-dimensional approach is, therefore, needed. Small firms prefer specific advice and information that they do not need to interpret in order to apply. International evidence suggests that face-to-face contact with health and safety agents (such as inspectors) is what works best.[354] However, the reach of such health and safety agents is limited.

  208.  A further concern is around the reluctance of small businesses to seek advice for fear of attracting enforcement action. Some argued that HSE's advice and enforcement functions should be separated in order to get around this.[355] Others, such as the GPMU, argued that it was important for the way in which HSE is perceived by business, that it was not seen as just an enforcement agency.[356] HSE inspectors will inevitably continue to play a role in providing advice and information and the recent strategy recognises the importance of this.[357]

  209.  Given the limitation on resources, HSE has looked at ways of getting its message across. For example, Safety and Health Awareness Days, had benefits in terms of reaching small businesses. Furthermore, attendees reported having made positive and tangible changes to their approach to health and safety (such as purchasing a new safety harness).[358] Another policy measure `which has been shown to be effective, is the use of worker safety advisers. Evaluation of the pilots showed that three quarters of the employers involved in the schemes had made changes to health and safety as a result.[359] Unfortunately, the scheme is very limited in the number of firms it is able to reach (see Chapter 14).

  210.  HSC's strategy talks about developing 'channels of support and advice that can be accessed without fear of enforcement action while allowing regulators to be tough on those who wilfully disregard the law.'[360] Because of this, and because resources are limited, an important part of HSC/E's strategy is to engage with intermediaries. However, evidence suggests that assumptions that have been made about the willingness, capacity and effectiveness of such intermediaries to act on health and safety issues are not born out.[361] HSC comments that 'these are not easy issues and we will conduct further studies, including the role of small firms' intermediaries before making a decision on how best to achieve this aim'.

  211.  A further plank of the strategy for providing accessible advice and support is to 'press for the provision of nationally available advice and support focused primarily on occupational health.' The Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland drew attention to the success of the Safe and Healthy Working Project in this respect.[362] This is a '3-year project providing a free telephone helpline and website, backed up by specialist advisors and a team of professionals across Scotland providing occupational health and safety advice, and on-site health audits for SMEs'. Demand for this service is apparently such that it is becoming log-jammed.[363]

  212.  HSC/E told us that communications were a priority for extra resources. It said it would like to move to 'more strategic campaigns'[364]. An additional £15m over 3 years would, it says, enable it to do more in terms of complementing operational activity by raising levels of awareness of hazards, highlighting sources of advice and publicising prosecutions. It also suggests that a further £25 million over three years would enable it to do more in terms of improving access to occupational health support (see Chapter 15).

  213.  The GMB has proposed the establishment of a Work Environment Fund.[365] Raised through a small payroll levy, GMB argues that this could provide an equitable means of ensuring that practical advice and assistance is available to employers. It estimates that an increase of twenty pence per week per employee would double the HSE's current budget.

  214.  The Committee supports HSE's strategy of devoting more resources to developing the role of intermediaries in providing support for small and medium enterprises but believes that this should be in addition to, not at the expense of, resources needed to provide an effective inspection regime for the sector.


  215.  The importance of having access to good quality, accessible guidance was raised by several witnesses. The quality of the information produced by HSE was generally praised.[366] The Construction Confederation was concerned that there had been delays in issuing important pieces of guidance.[367]

  216.  Trade unions were particularly concerned that most publications were priced out of the reach of safety representatives.[368] HSE told us that it publishes some 600 products free of charge and is committed to making more information available online. It said that there are no contractual restrictions to prevent it publishing information free on-line. However, as publications generate £5m income each year, a move to 'publishing all guidance free of charge on-line' would 'have a detrimental impact on HSE's future income.'[369] HSE is currently reviewing its pricing policy with a view to developing a transition plan 'allowing more information to appear on the internet without incurring any business detriment as a result.' The Committee recommends that resources should be allocated to enable all key HSE publications to be made available free of charge on the internet.

352   HSC (2004), Strategy for workplace health and safety in Great Britain to 2010 and beyond. Sudbury: HSE Books Back

353   Hanson M et al (1998), Evaluation of the Six-Pack Regulations 1992, HSE Contact Research Report. Sudbury: HSE Books Back

354   Walters D (2001), Health and Safety in Small Firms, Brussels: Peter Lang, pp 217-275 Back

355   Volume III (No. 26) Back

356   Volume III (No. 4) Back

357   HSC (2004), A strategy for workplace health and safety in Great Britain to 2010 and beyond. Sudbury: HSE Books Back

358   Volume III (No. 38) Back

359   Shaw N and Turner R, Worker Safety Advisors (WSA) pilot, HSE Research Report 144 Sudbury: HSE Books Back

360   HSC (2004), A strategy for workplace health and safety in Great Britain to 2010 and beyond. Sudbury: HSE Books Back

361   James P, Vickers I, Smallbone D and Baldock R,'Use of external sources of H&S information and advice: case of small firms' in'Policy and Practice in Health and Safety', vol 2, issue 1, 2004 Back

362   Volume III (No. 56) Back

363   Volume II (Ev 89,Q339) Back

364   volume II (Ev 142, note 6) Back

365   Volume III (No. 26) Back

366   See, for example, Volume III (No. 26) Back

367   Volume III (No. 20) Back

368   eg Volume III (Nos. 5 and 26) Back

369   Volume III (No. 38) Back

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