Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by The Heating And Ventilating Contractors' Association

  0.1  The Heating and Ventilating Contractors' Association (HVCA) is a trade Association which represents businesses which operate in the building engineering services sector of the construction industry.

  0.2  The HVCA represents the interests of businesses active in the design, installation, commissioning and maintenance of heating, ventilating, air conditioning and refrigeration(hvacr) products and equipment. HVCA membership comprises some 1,400 companies with 2,000 offices located throughout the UK, having a combined turnover of £3 billion and a 50,000-plus workforce.

  0.3  It is estimated that HVCA members are responsible for the installation and maintenance of some 80% of the country's industrial and commercial hvacr systems.

The Association is pleased to be able to have the opportunity to make a submission to the Select Committee on this subject and would be happy to appear in person should the Committee feel this would be beneficial.

1.   The HSE "Fundamental Review of Gas Safety"

  1.1  In 1999, the HSC published a discussion document asking for views on the regulatory regime as it applied to gas.

  It is understood that there was a good response to the document, and from the feedback the HSC published a "proposals for change" document making 47 recommendations for change.

  The recommendations were accepted by the then Minister (DTLR) and HSE were asked to implement.

  To date, very few of the recommendations have been implemented. The timescale for the introduction of new legislation has been put back on several occasions.

  At the current rate of progress the next fundamental review will be initiated before the recommendations of the existing review have been implemented.

  It has been suggested that the reasons for the HSE's difficulties relate to a lack of management resources. However, the Association is not convinced that this is the case and believes that the HSE has simply "lost interest" in implementing the review recommendations

2.   HSE and its Role in Regulating CORGI

  2.1  In 1990, the HSE oversaw the formation of a statutory registration scheme for gas installation businesses. It was also instrumental, with the support of industry, in the formation of The Council for Registered Gas Installers (CORGI).

  CORGI was initially managed by the CORGI Council, a body made up of interested organisations. However, following a review of its operation, the management of CORGI was taken away from the CORGI Council by the HSE and given to a board of management appointed by the HSE.

  Since this change, the HVCA has seen CORGI become uncommunicative, unresponsive and dictatorial in its operations. It no longer has the Association's support or that of a number of other gas industry bodies.

  The way that it has recently introduced new entry requirements for trainees wishing to take competency testing , in such a way that Plumbing trainees can no longer gain their NVQs is a case in point.

  The HSE, who created the body and oversee its operations, seem unwilling or unable to bring about the change it recognises is needed to re-introduce the transparency and accountability that much of the industry believes is essential.

  It has been suggested that the reasons for the HSE's difficulties with CORGI relate to a lack of management resources. However, the Association is not convinced that this is the case and believe the HSE simply does not have the desire to make the necessary changes.

  With regard to the specific issues identified in your Press Notice, we would comment as follows:

3.   The Legislative Framework: To What Extent has the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and Subsequent Legislation at National and European Levels Been Successful in Improving Standards of Health and Safety?

  3.1  The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the other national and European legislation which are in place provide an effective framework for regulating health and safety in the UK. From our contacts with other similar trade bodies in the EU and worldwide it is clear that the British framework is held in very high esteem.

  3.2  However, in terms of the factors that affect the hvacr sector, the lack of HSE monitoring and enforcement activity allows less responsible firms to operate with poor safety management processes in place in an environment where there is very little likelihood of getting caught.

  The responsible businesses in the sector who are complying fully with the legislation, for example those who are members of our Association, find that this lack of a level playing field regarding health and safety compliance extremely worrying. They are concerned that it is damaging the general perception of the industry and but also affecting their ability to compete in the marketplace.

  3.3  We do recognise that the HSE's strategies and programmes are the best that could be achieved with the very limited resources it has available.

  However, a properly resourced HSE would be able to carry out the greater degree of monitoring and enforcement which would we believe is necessary in order to accelerate the rate of change.

  3.4  We believe that in addition to trying to convince industry of the business case for good health and safety management, a significant part of the HSE's role is to enforce the legislation which it has put in place.


4.0  Is Britain on Course to Meet the Targets set out in the Revitalising Health And Safety Strategy?

  4.1  We believe that the UK is on course to meet most, if not all of the very challenging targets put in place by the Government and HSE in the Revitalising Health and Safety policy document.

  The hard work and endeavour by the hvacr sector of the construction industry to improve it's health and safety performance has been impressive.

  However, it is disappointing to note that while there has been a step change in terms of health and safety within the responsible side of the sector, is hard to quantify how much work has been carried out by those who do not belong to a trade association or who operate on the fringes.

  Members still report of contractors whose working procedures are extremely slipshod and leave much to be desired.

5.   Does the HSE get the Balance Right Between Prevention and Enforcement?

  5.1  We do not believe that the HSE has established the right priorities to bring about improvements in the sector. We believe that in addition to trying to convince industry of the business case for good health and safety management, a significant part of the HSE's role is to monitor work activities and enforce the legislation which is in place. There are many businesses who are not impressed by the rhetoric and still do not see the commercial value of adopting good sound health and safety practices. Such businesses seem only prepared to respond to routine monitoring and enforcement action.

6.   Is it Sufficiently Proactive to Address Developing Hazards at Work Such as Stress and Passive Smoking?

  The HSE has been very successful in identifying the developing emerging hazards at work such as stress, passive smoking and driving at work. However, dealing with the proactive aspects of health and safety is merely one facet of the Executive's activity and should not be further developed at the expense of what the Association sees as being one of its core activities ie monitoring and enforcement.

  7.0  Are Penalties for Health and Safety Offences set at an Appropriate Level?

  7.1  The penalties for health and safety breaches for medium and larger size businesses seem appropriate. However, the fines meted out in magistrates courts to smaller companies do not seem to be very severe. This may be due to the Government's tariff structure but the message it sends to industry is that the little companies "get off" relatively lightly.

  It also seems that the HSE have a policy of taking enforcement action against larger companies. This seems to be based on the view that the publicity gained from one large company prosecution is more beneficial than prosecuting a number of small companies.

  Many medium and large businesses have reached a point where they feel they are being "picked on".

8.   To What Extent is Health and Safety Legislation Properly Understood?

  8.1  The very nature of health and safety legislation in this country, which is formulated on the basis of the "goal setting" approach does present difficulties for business and industry.

  The goal setting approach means that a further tier of statutory guidance and advice is contained in Approved Codes of Practice (ACOP) and even these often do not prescribe what must be achieved.

  When asked to clarify, the HSE usually refuse to give further guidance and say that it would be for a court to decide how the laws, ACOP and guidance should be interpreted.

  8.2  Terms such as "adequate" "reasonable" and "suitable and sufficient" leave business in the unenviable position of trying to set in place a standard which they hope will satisfy a court should the subject be tested.

  In order to ensure compliance, the business takes the "belt and braces view" and puts in place procedures and paperwork systems which are overly complex and restrictive, widening the gulf still further between those companies who want to be good, safe employers, and those who do just enough.

  From a trade association viewpoint, because of the goalsetting nature of the legislation, and the lack of prescriptive guidance, any advice given by the trade association will inevitably not be based upon what is reasonable, but what will ensure compliance in the worst case.

9.   Does More Need to be Done to Encourage Good Practice?

  9.1  We believe that whilst the HSE have a role in helping industry to develop good practice, this is not one of their primary roles. Guidance and what can be deemed good practice will develop much more effectively if there is clear and unambiguous law and sound support from the HSE when an industry guidance document is being promulgated.

10.   Is There Sufficient Emphasis on "Health" in Health and Safety?

  10.1  There is certainly less emphasis currently being placed on chronic ill health issues caused by work. The hvacr sector is likely to be one of those hit hard by the effects of Asbestos related illness as most workers will have come into contact with the substance at some point during their working lives and focussed support from the HSE on how employers should deal with the issue would be most welcome.


11.   Is the HSE Sufficiently Well-Resourced to Meet its Objectives?

  11.1  The Association believes that this is the primary issue. The HSE has suffered from a year on year decrease in funding in real terms and have clearly reviewed their activities on the basis of the finances available. The main casualty of this approach appears to have been a reduction in monitoring and enforcement with HSE taking backseat role.

  Whilst the case for good, sound health and safety practices in business are clear to the converted, there are many businesses whose health and safety practices leave much to be desired.

  Such businesses are able to work to lower standards and can tender at prices that good responsible companies cannot match.

  We believe that the most effective way to affect the culture in such businesses is to have an effective enforcement regime.

12.   To What Extent is There Good Coordination Between HSE and Those Other Parts of Central and Local Government With a Role to Play in Promoting Health and Safety?

  12.1  We are not aware of any coordination between local authorities and the HSE.

The Heating and Ventilating Contractors' Association

13 February 2004

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