UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 1143

House of COMMONS

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE

WORK AND PENSIONS COMMITTEE

 

 

THE HEALTH AND SAFETY COMMISSION AND EXECUTIVE

 

 

Wednesday 24 May 2006

MR BILL CALLAGHAN and MR GEOFFREY PODGER

Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 71

 

 

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Work and Pensions Committee

on Wednesday 24 May 2006

Members present

Mr Terry Rooney, in the Chair

Miss Anne Begg

Harry Cohen

Mr Philip Dunne

Natascha Engel

Michael Jabez Foster

Justine Greening

Mrs Joan Humble

Greg Mulholland

John Penrose

________________

Memorandum submitted by The Health and Safety Executive

 

Examination of Witnesses

 

Witnesses: Mr Bill Callaghan, Chairman, Health and Safety Commission, and Mr Geoffrey Podger, Chief Executive, Health and Safety Executive, gave evidence.

Q1 Chairman: Good morning and welcome everybody to this session with the Health and Safety Executive and Commission. Welcome and good morning to our two guests. Would you just introduce yourselves and say what your different positions are.

Mr Callaghan: Good morning, Chairman. I am Bill Callaghan and I chair the Health and Safety Commission.

Mr Podger: Good morning. I am Geoffrey Podger and I am the Chief Executive of the Health and Safety Executive.

Q2 Chairman: Thank you. The Government's response to our last report said that the Health and Safety Executive was piloting a "Workplace Health and Safety" survey. How often will that be conducted and how disappointed are you at the relatively low response rate?

Mr Podger: Chairman, as I think you and the Committee may know, we have in fact now undertaken and published two surveys, one in relation to the responses of employers, one in relation to employees, so from that point of view they complement each other well. It is disappointing that the response rate, which I think was around 26 per cent, is as low as it is. What I think we now need to do is obviously to draw first of all the data we have got from these surveys and feed it into our work, and we will then have to consider financing future surveys and also the obvious option of trying to see if there are ways in which we can get a higher response rate. To answer you question specifically, we do not at the moment have a specific date for a further round of surveys, because these are quite resource intensive surveys, they cost between one and two million and, as I say, we would take the view it is premature to actually commit ourselves now to a further round.

Q3 Chairman: How does that response rate compare with other surveys which you have done?

Mr Podger: I think the honest answer is that the response rate we get is very variable. I would say this was on the low side, to be frank, compared with other surveys we have done and it is, as I say, disappointing. I think the issue really is whether there are other interview methods which we ought to use to try and get a higher response rate, if we are able to finance future surveys.

Q4 Chairman: Presumably you will be publishing something when you have completed your analysis?

Mr Podger: Indeed, and we have already released the surveys in fact, and we have actually press released them as well, but, as I say there, there is further work to do on them in terms of actually drawing the lessons from them to inform our work.

Q5 Chairman: Thank you for that. You had a 2004/5 PSA target of a five per cent reduction in fatal and major injuries, which I think you failed to meet. Is there any particular reason for that?

Mr Podger: I think the honest answer, Chairman, is that it is clear that where we have been able to concentrate effort we have actually done well. The construction sector would be a good example of that where, in the various campaigns we have had since 1999 and 2000, we have actually managed to achieve a reduction of 25 per cent in fatal and major injuries. As the Committee will well be aware, construction is both an area which is expanding and an area potentially always of very high risk. What we have not succeeded in doing, I will be honest with you, is in actually achieving these results across the patch and a particular concern is that the service sector is now showing much higher rates of fatal and major injuries than was the case in the past. Obviously, we are now trying to explore ways of specifically targeting the service sector.

Mr Callaghan: Perhaps I could add two points, Chairman. If you look at over three day injuries (which is not the same as major injuries but they are more numerous than major injuries), they are now at their lowest rate on record, and we also have two other elements to the PSA target of days lost both to injury and ill health and also the incidence rate of ill health. On the last, the incidence rate of ill health, the judgment is that we are on target and on the days lost that we are probably on target, so I think the picture is certainly not as good as we would like, as Geoffrey has said, particularly in relation to what is happening in the service sector, but I think compared with when we appeared before the Select Committee in 2004 we now have pretty firm information that we are broadly on track to meet the PSA targets.

Q6 Chairman: Do you think you are on target to meet the ten per cent reduction for 2010, or do you think you will need to take further or different action, or it is a resource issue?

Mr Callaghan: I think the whole point of our Strategy - which I think you have had a copy of and I think you have had an update on what has happened - is to make sure that we are focusing our resources on where we can have the greatest impact, hence, for example, the concentration on construction, which is, as Geoffrey said, a hazardous industry and also a growing industry and one where I think a mix of interventions has produced good results.

Q7 Justine Greening: On that matter, obviously an issue of interest to many Members is the fact that over the coming years we will have a huge construction project in the east of the city in relation to the Olympics. For a project of that size, how many fatalities and accidents would you expect on average to happen during that particular construction period and is that something we should be especially looking at in order to make sure that we stop those from happening, because obviously presumably there are risks?

Mr Callaghan: I would start from the presumption of zero accidents, I have to say, and we have seen a number of major construction projects which have had that goal and have achieved it. I have to say that particularly in those sectors covered by the major contractors; group we have seen a dramatic improvement in safety, and indeed at a summit which we called for the construction industry last year the industry did commit itself to that zero tolerance of accidents. Perhaps Geoffrey would like to say a bit more, but we obviously have been in touch with the DA or the shadow ODA which exists at the moment, and I think the key feature is to make sure that we build in good safety procedures right from the outset and spend a lot of time on that particular issue.

Mr Podger: Yes. If I could just add, Chairman, it is clear from our discussions with the ODA that they are fully seised of this issue and fully determined, as Bill says, to operate a policy of zero tolerance. I have to say that since I took up this job I have now become much more worried by looking at new buildings going up than I used to be in the past precisely because I tend now to see tombstones, but it is absolutely the case, and I have confirmed it with our chief inspector of construction, that there are in fact major projects which have been delivered perfectly safely. So I strongly support what Bill Callaghan has said, that we could quite legitimately expect to escape without major injuries or fatalities.

Q8 Harry Cohen: Just to follow up on that point about the Olympics, do you envisage that your Executive will need more resources, as part of the building process, to check on the building process?

Mr Podger: I think we certainly do envisage that we will be committing quite significant parts of our existing resources to it. Inherently with building projects some start, some stop, of which we have been aware, but certainly we do regard it as a high priority.

Q9 Chairman: To what extent do you think under-reporting of injuries is still an issue? You are having a review of RIDDOR, are you not?

Mr Callaghan: Yes.

Mr Podger: I think it is extremely difficult to tell is the honest truth. To go back to the WAS surveys, which you referred to earlier, these do produce different data (because they are based on perception) than what we actually get through our own surveys. I think it is the usual difficulty of trying to find things when you do not know where they are. We actually genuinely, I think, do not have very clear areas where we believe there to be under-reporting, but we preserve the suspicion that there must be in some areas.

Q10 Chairman: To what extent do you correlate with those functions within local government? Local government tends to deal with much smaller organisations where the under-reporting is more likely.

Mr Podger: Yes, that is indeed true, and I think local authorities probably actually have had a greater difficulty than us. I think what is clear is that across what you might call the major hazards sector (the sites where there is low risk but high consequences) they have very close relations with us and I think we would be reasonably confident with the level of reporting. I think obviously the risk lies in the more general premises which we inspect, although I agree with you that local authorities have an even greater difficulty because they have even smaller premises.

Mr Callaghan: I think under-reporting seems to be most prevalent amongst very small firms and the self-employed, and obviously one of the issues we shall be looking at in the RIDDOR review is to what extent are the questions we ask of employers themselves perhaps leading to less reporting than there might be.

Q11 Chairman: Finally from me, in the Welfare Reform Green Paper it was said that you were working with the insurance industry to reduce risk in the workplace and to have that reflected through lower employers' liability insurance premiums, which became a big issue a couple of years ago. How realistic is it that you cannot actually influence those insurance companies?

Mr Podger: I think the honest answer, Chairman, is the experience of attempting to do precisely what we set out, which you quoted, has been disappointing. On the whole, I think the insurance industry have not found this an approach which appeals to them greatly and we have not made the progress we would like to have done.

Q12 Chairman: Just to comment, in my misspent youth when I worked in insurance the emphasis was on managing risk and now it just seems to be to lower the premium. Do you think that is an issue, that insurance companies no longer manage the risk?

Mr Podger: I think very clearly the insurance industry approach this from the point of view of their overall financial viability, which I think is a more polite way of saying what you have just said to me.

Chairman: I will take that as a yes.

Q13 Harry Cohen: I want to ask you about major hazards. You might have a better definition, but I would think they would be something which could lead to a catastrophic incident or accident. I know you have got the Fit for work, Fit for life, Fit for tomorrow programme and Major Hazards, and I will ask you a bit more about those in a minute. Could you first of all tell us what you have done to identify the extent of major hazards which we have got in this country?

Mr Podger: Yes. As some Members of the Committee may know, we essentially are the regulators for the nuclear industry, for the offshore oil industry and the offshore chemical sites. These are essentially the sites which fall into this category. There are well laid down procedures for the inspection of these sites, which very often proceed under licensing and safety case arrangements. I think it is important to understand that when, for example, we inspect Sellafield we are not just looking for slips and trips. There is a need, for example, for the management to produce safety cases to HSE on any changes and alterations they would wish to make and these would need to be approved by us before the management could proceed. It is also, I think, worth making the point that several of these procedures and all the sites I have mentioned are also governed by EU law, so they are not simply procedures invented by HSE, but they are ones to which HSE has strongly contributed in their formulation and with which, I think it is fair to say, we generally are satisfied with the nature of the regulatory regime. As always, the issues which arise are the tension between the requirements we would like to see implemented on safety and the financial cost of doing so, and one should not in any way seek to hide that, and obviously we engage in a great deal of discussion with the various managements of these sites as to what needs to be done. I think it is also fair to say that a key function of HSE is that when (as sadly does happen) there are incidents which we investigate, those lessons are learnt across all the relevant sites and are not simply confined to that site. To make an obvious example, obviously the worst problem from our point of view during my short period of office has been the explosion at Buncefield, where we have both been conducted a very detailed investigation as to what happened at Buncefield, but as the knowledge has come out we have been throughout the country engaging in discussions and inspections with similar sites with a view to seeking to remove or at least reduce the risk of similar occurrences. That will be an ongoing procedure as the Buncefield investigation proceeds. If I could try and sum it up, I think it is a complex process. It would be quite wrong to imply other than that. On the whole, we have good relations with the employers' side, with those who own the sites, but equally I would not wish to mislead you. There are always serious issues as to the tension between cost and the extra security which various measures would bring and those form part of our day to day interchanges.

Q14 Harry Cohen: I am quite interested in whether this should be in the public domain, whether it is in the public domain. For example, do you have a list published of what are the potential major hazards, number one. Secondly, you have mentioned managers (for costs reasons, presumably, mainly) not implementing your recommendations. Should that not be published somewhere? What are your views on that?

Mr Podger: The answer to the first question, which is the question I myself asked when I joined HSE, is that there used to be a list but most unfortunately it has had to be withdrawn for perfectly legitimate reasons in relation to the campaign against terrorism and they probably are no longer legally able to issue this list. Let me say, with no disrespect to the importance of countering terrorism, which I accept entirely, obviously purely from an HSE standpoint we regret that, because our preference is indeed to be able to have a list. So that is a matter of regret. In relation to our discussions with management and these issues on financial tensions, I would say that on the whole we generally manage in the end to reach agreement on what is to be done. Therefore, in a sense there are not reports which would say there is a sort of general problem here or there, but certainly I think at the end of the day I personally would not rule out actually publicising if we had a really major difficulty and could see no other way of taking it forward. Of course, HSE has, I think, quite a strong website with public information, and indeed, for example, we have recently published the external view which was done by the International Atomic Energy Authority of our own staff in terms of their capacity as regulators. So we do try to publish as much as possible, but I stress that we are always open to improvements.

Mr Callaghan: Perhaps I could add one point, that we would certainly expect the duty holders under these various regimes to discuss their safety cases or safety reports with their workforce and the trades unions.

Mr Podger: Yes, I agree with that.

Q15 Harry Cohen: I have mentioned your Fit for work, Fit for life, Fit for tomorrow programme, which is a three year programme which began in April 2005, and also you have got your major hazards work there. Can you tell us what impact those have had?

Mr Podger: What we have been trying to do, very obviously, is to address what are the major risks, particularly in what you might call normal workplaces and these do very much boil down to things like slips and trips, heavy lifting, and so on. We have been trying, therefore, to focus our inspections more on these precisely so as to get results. I think our view would be that on the whole we are seeing the benefits of this. It is still early days, I would say, but I think the general perception - and indeed it is also borne out by the WAS surveys - is that people are now more conscious of these risks than they were before and that therefore some progress is going to be made. But to be frank with you, it is not something where we are going to be able to say in a year that we have cracked it. I think it requires us to continue quite strongly with this, complementing on the one hand inspections and on the other hand publicity campaigns, education and advice.

Mr Callaghan: I think, importantly, local authorities are increasingly taking account of our Fit3 work in their own inspection and enforcement works so that we are getting more consistency across the economy.

Q16 Harry Cohen: Do you expect that to cover the whole country?

Mr Podger: Yes, certainly. We cover Great Britain, as you know, and this is intended to cover the whole of Great Britain.

Q17 Harry Cohen: The DWP Departmental Report for 2006 had an interesting quote which says that programme (the Major Hazards Cross-Cutting Programme) "identifies issues that cut across the major hazards sectors, where we can reduce the likelihood of catastrophic incidents by sharing, understanding and adopting best practice," but then it also said that the sub-target of the PSA target is not yet assessed, although they claimed it is on course. If it is not yet assessed, what does that mean? Is there a target? Is there going to be a target? If there is not a target, how can it be on course?

Mr Podger: I would imagine - and I have to say I am simply trying to create what this must mean - the distinction is between, as it were, identifying the target in principle and then identifying measurements which will actually lead you to find out whether you have achieved it or not. This is a habitual problem, which I would wish to be quite frank about, but I think that is the explanation.

Q18 Harry Cohen: That they have not reached a target yet?

Mr Podger: No, in fact I think further definition work has been done since then and I think now, as I understand it, we are in a position to actually explain what the target is.

Q19 Harry Cohen: Well, can you explain what it is then?

Mr Callaghan: I do have to report quarterly to ministers on performance on the PSA target with the Executive and I know work is in progress on the most recent quarter's information. I suspect the DWP report may not be entirely up to date with the information, so I am sure we could let the Committee have a note on what has been happening and the sort of detail of the PSA target for major hazards, if that is the question, Mr Cohen.

Mr Podger: Yes, we could certainly let you have that.

Q20 Harry Cohen: Okay. Let me just pick up on the first bit of that quote about sharing best practice. Has there been a substantial improvement? Have you generated a substantial improvement on that?

Mr Podger: Yes, and indeed we can add that in the note. I think in general we have managed to get reportable incidents down in the major hazards sector and, as I indicated earlier, reportable incidents are actually more likely to be properly reported in the major hazards sector than they are in others, so this is reliable data. If you like, we could include in the note actually where we have got to on that. I think it is also worth making the point that we do actually spend quite a lot of time also extrapolating from one sector to another. One tends to feel that these sectors are deeply technical, but in fact many of the issues are actually managerial or issues of proper liaison with the workforce and therefore, as the DWP White Paper says, it does actually enable us to extrapolate good practice across the whole of the major hazards sector and not just the individual areas.

Q21 Greg Mulholland: You mentioned Buncefield and I want to ask a couple of questions on that. The first is a general one, which is, do you think the Health and Safety Executive is actually the appropriate body to investigate major incidents such as Buncefield, considering the fact that to some extent it is its own effectiveness as an organisation it is therefore investigating?

Mr Callaghan: This is an area where I, as it were, invoked some special powers which the Commission has. Most incidents are routinely investigated by HSC, but we recognised, given the severity of the explosion and the fire and the great potential for harm - luckily, no one was killed, but this could have been a very serious incident indeed in terms of injuries and loss of life - that we needed to have an extra degree of assurance. That is why the Commission appointed Lord Newton of Braintree to be an independent chair of the investigation board, and I have to thank Tony Newton for the very hard work he has done. We have two experts, one on fire safety and one on environmental factors, on the board and they are overseeing this process. Obviously HSC experts have been looking at the forensic evidence and I think they have done a very good job in terms of the great damage to the site to be able to piece together the information. So I certainly take the point that there is a perception that we might be investigating ourselves, but we have put in place procedures to make sure that we have a degree of independent scrutiny. This does not happen all the time, but it was quite clear, given the severity of this incident, that we needed to provide that degree of assurance and I think, particularly in the conversations which I know Lord Newton has had with the residents of the area and with the local councils, they have welcomed that oversight. So I think those procedures have worked very well.

Mr Podger: Could I just say from the HSE's perspective that we have no desire to be judge and jury in our own court. What I think we can provide to these kinds of incidents is actually experts who have real knowledge of the sites and the issues. I think the conclusions which the Commission have reached in setting up Lord Newton's inquiry does this actually very well. It enables the technical investigation to be done by us, but the issues which will quite properly arise about HSE's own conduct, in particular in the previous transactions with the site, will be matters on which we shall submit evidence, but it will be for Lord Newton and the independent assessors to take a view as to whether they consider our behaviour was adequate or not. As I say, I think there is an organon here which my Chairman actually well recognised at the outset, which we have tried to meet, but I stress that our concern is very much to give proper technical advice and also to be on the ground to actually learn as soon as possible the technical lessons so that we can pass them to other sites, but not to be judge and jury in our own courts.

Q22 Mr Dunne: Just in relation to Buncefield - and you may not be in a position to comment on this question but I am going to ask you anyway - is there any evidence at all to suggest that the Buncefield incident was caused by an arson or terrorist attack?

Mr Podger: First of all, I think I can answer in relation to a terrorist attack that I know of no evidence, and I think it would be quite right to put that out of court. I think the other part of you question, Mr Dunne, I have to answer by saying, as we have indicated in the latest report on Buncefield, we are continuing to conduct a criminal investigation at Buncefield. If I might say to the Committee, I think it is very important that this point is recognised. There has been some suggestion that HSE has found the cause but no one is to blame. We have emphatically not said that no one is to blame. We are conducting a criminal investigation and obviously that will lead in time to conclusions which will be made public and there is a possibility (I stress possibility) of a prosecution.

Chairman: I do not think we should go any further than that.

Q23 Greg Mulholland: In terms of HSE's role, you have made it clear, I think, that that indeed will be part of the investigations, appropriately, to look at the HSE's performance role. A couple of very quick questions on that. Can you tell us when was the last time the HSE carried out an inspection at the site, obviously prior to the incident?

Mr Podger: My understanding is shortly before, by which I think I mean about a week, there was an HSE colleague who was actually on the site, but I think it is important to understand what he was doing because there have again been suggestions that HSE inspected the particular piece of machinery which now forms the basis of the inquiry's conclusion that that was where the problem lay. In fact we were not inspecting that at all, it was part of a wider series of discussions with the site as to the overall safety arrangements which were going on. If the basis is not obvious, and it may not be, I think it is important to say, as Bill was saying earlier, that it is the duty-holder's responsibility to actually manage the site properly and make sure that all the parts of it are working. Our inspectors obviously do inspections, but it is not their function to crawl over all parts of the site, indeed we could not possibly do this. So there was an ongoing discussion with Buncefield. I understand there was a visit from an inspector I think a week before, but it is not the case that we had inspected the particular fuel tank which is covered by the subsequent inquiry report.

Q24 Greg Mulholland: I suppose the crux question then is, is there any suggestion of any line of inquiry in the investigation which suggests that the HSE inspection in any way failed to highlight any problem which led to the incident?

Mr Podger: I think Lord Newton's inquiry will inevitably and properly ask itself that question. All I can say, which is the honest answer, Chairman, is that I personally am not aware of any evidence of negligence on our part, but I do repeat that we will have to give proper and formal evidence to the inquiry and they will reach a conclusion on it.

Q25 Mrs Humble: I want to ask you some questions about the HSC Strategy for Workplace Health and Safety, but before I do I just want to pick up on the issue of serious hazards, because you have mentioned your responsibility for offshore oil and gas, and of course you have a responsibility under the Colman regulations to supervise these things. I have an interest because there is currently a public inquiry into a planning application adjoining my constituency for a major underground gas storage facility and I recall from previous correspondence that the HSE has very little input into the planning application and commenting upon that. Your responsibility is when the site is up and running. Last year the Government gave permission for an underground gas storage facility at Byley in Cheshire and I just wonder whether or not there ought to be a role for either of your organisations but probably the HSE in examining the safety of the proposal at that planning stage rather than having a responsibility when it has been agreed?

Mr Podger: Generally speaking, the position is that where there are major hazards planning applications (that is a rather shorthand term, but you understand what I mean) HSE should in fact be consulted, does give a view and it is then for the local authority exclusively to determine whether or not it accepts that view. There is a right, I think, of HSE in exceptional circumstances to go to the relevant minister if we were still totally dissatisfied with what had occurred. So that is the general position, that we do provide an input to planning applications, but we are not the determining authority.

Q26 Mrs Humble: My recollection of correspondence was that your role was more limited than I would have liked, let us put it that way.

Mr Podger: Yes, I do understand what you are saying entirely, and I think it is fair to say to the Committee that this can be an issue of concern to us. I am myself engaged at the moment in correspondence where it appears that we should have been consulted and were not and various things were then constructed, so there are issues around this and I think it is very important that local authorities do consult us and obviously pay due attention to what comes back.

Q27 Mrs Humble: I will now move on to HSC's Strategy. Earlier both of you referred to the fact that this Strategy has led you to concentrate resources on the construction industry. Can you just give us a little more indication of how the Strategy for Workplace Health and Safety has changed the output of the HSC? What do you think are the major achievements of the Strategy?

Mr Callaghan: It is not just the construction industry, it is an attempt to focus our work and also the work of HSE and the local authorities on those hazards which are the most serious in society and those industries which are the most hazardous, and I think we are having some success. For example, one of the reasons why we have seen an improvement in the incidence rate of ill health and the number of days lost because of ill health coming down is that we have tackled the issue of musculoskeletal disorders, which is bad backs, what people sometimes call RSI, and there has been a lot of effort and a lot of campaigns which has linked inspection, advice, guidance, working with employers and trades unions and it is really concentrating our efforts on a particular issue which I think have proved efficacious. As I said in the foreword to the Strategy, we have done a lot of good work but sometimes we have spread ourselves too thinly and I think what the Strategy shows is that where we do concentrate efforts - and it is not just, as you might have heard, that we have cut back on inspection, or whatever - our view is that we need a mixture of strong enforcement and inspection, but also good advice and guidance, and we have got to try and influence behaviour and we do that through a variety of means. That is just one example, construction is another, and we can think of other areas where we are, through a focusing of effort, actually achieving some results. So that is the main theme of the Strategy, can we identify priorities and can we concentrate resources on them?

Q28 Mrs Humble: What have you identified as your key priorities for the next year?

Mr Callaghan: Mr Cohen mentioned the Fit3 programme, which is looking at those hazards which are most common in the workplace and making sure that we concentrate our effort on that. Lots of our activities are not things you can turn on and turn off like a tap, they are ongoing, but obviously the construction programme is continuing. As I have said, we have made a lot of progress, I think, with the big employers in the construction sector. The next challenge really - I was discussing this with our Chief Inspector of Construction - is how we roll out some of the good practice into the smaller firms in the construction industry where the accident rates do seem to be worse. There is a number of other areas we are looking at, and we work on stress and musculoskeletal disorders, falls from heights, workplace transport, and all of that is continuing. I think you have had a report on the second year of the Strategy and we want to make sure that that approach continues.

Mr Podger: If I may just add one thing, I think it is worth making the point that the thematic approach of Fit3 does not merely focus our attention but it does also focus the attention of employers who may, let us be honest about it, find that just being confronted with the general desire to improve their healthy and safety does not actually take them anywhere, but if you actually itemise it in this way, falls from heights, slips and trips, and so on, people actually do focus on it. We do often tell employers in advance that we are coming to do a "slips and trips" inspection and they know the campaigns are going on and it does actually have, I think, an effect which goes well beyond just what we in HSE can do.

Q29 Mrs Humble: Can I then ask you what you mean in the HSC's Annual Report when you identify "Government setting an example"? How does that link in to your Strategy and what sort of work is being undertaken for Government as the standard-setter? How are you telling people that the Government is the standard-setter? What is Government doing and how are you telling people this is an example for others to follow?

Mr Callaghan: I think it ought to be a standard-setter. Whether it is, of course, is a moot point, but I have to say this is an issue which our minister, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, is very, very interested in and I would like to thank Phillip Hunt for the work he has done because he has chaired a ministerial task force which has actually been banging some heads together in Whitehall, getting into his task force representatives of the various departments and actually saying, "Hang on, your sickness, absence record" - and I think we are looking at issues of ill health particularly in some parts of the public sector - "actually is rather worse than many other parts of the economy." I think we are all too conscious, in relation to what is a public sector organisation, that if we are exalting the private sector to do better it does not look too good if your own record is not perfect. Issues such as stress and musculoskeletal disorders are very prevalent in sectors such as the health service and teaching, and that is why we are engaged in a major programme, so I think this is a very important issue given just the numbers of people employed in the public sector, but also in terms of the relevance and persuasiveness of our campaign if the public sector is not setting an example in the things it does. I also ought to mention that not just as an employer but also as a procurer of goods and services, as a major client for the construction sector, it needs to do better. Forty per cent of the construction sector is procured via the public sector, so the public sector has an immense role to play in helping to set good standards.

Q30 Mrs Humble: I, too, have heard Lord Hunt give a presentation and I have to say his audience was very impressed by the enthusiasm and commitment he gave and the leadership he was showing in bringing together all sorts of different organisations to discuss this issue. But I also recall that when his predecessor gave evidence to the Committee in our earlier inquiry into health and safety we questioned her on the Government setting a standard and leadership on the construction industry because, as you have said, a very large amount of construction is actually undertaken through central government and indeed local government. We have had evidence from the Construction Confederation and they had come up with an industry standard for employers in the construction industry to sign up to, for want of a better term, a manifesto on health and safety and we asked that the Government sign up equally and demand standards of the companies which it employs to undertake construction work. I have to say the minister was not very keen to sign up to that sort of commitment. Has anything happened since then? How does the Government ensure that not only the major contractor but also the sub-contractors and sub-sub-contractors who are brought on site are actually satisfying the most stringent of health and safety regulations?

Mr Callaghan: If you were to take evidence now from the Construction Federation, I hope they will tell you that we had a very successful conference, I think it was in February, at which our minister, our Secretary of State, and Des Brown in his previous role as Chief Secretary to the Treasury spoke, and this was attended by both representatives of the construction industry and also senior players in the public sector. At that conference we looked at best practice in the private sector and also best practice in the public sector, because there are some excellent clients in the public sector but that knowledge is not widely spread. So we have taken that agenda on and I think what we now need to ensure is that the impetus from that conference is not lost. A lot of work has gone on to follow up the points, the quite proper concerns, I think, of the Construction Confederation that the clients in the private sector were perhaps a bit more demanding than those in the public sector. We aim to change that.

Q31 Mrs Humble: I am pleased to learn that. Can I just finally ask you some questions on the Workplace Health Connect. You have had some pilots in the Connect service. How is it progressing and when do you expect to report? I understand there has been a plan to role out the Workplace Health Connect project. Should you be doing it now, before you have evaluated the pilots?

Mr Podger: I think that is a fair question. The position on Workplace Health Connect is that we have actually now been running it for 12 weeks and what we have found so far is two-fold. Firstly, that people who actually use the service have a high level of satisfaction with it, I think around 88 per cent is the latest figure I have seen, but to be frank with the Committee where we have had a problem is in relation to take-up and for the first eight weeks or so of the pilot we managed to get to around 25 per cent of our expected take-up. We have now, in the last two weeks, because we have actually altered our way of publicising the service - and there is clearly a lesson in that - managed to get the telephone service advice line up to around 50 per cent of expected calls, the visits up to around 90 per cent. So I entirely accept the implication of your question that clearly before we can roll it out further we have to very carefully evaluate what we have achieved so far and there is no absolute commitment to roll out Workplace Health Connect if we should find that in fact we would not be justified in doing so beyond the initial pilot period. Equally, I would just like to say that we ourselves are still actually rather encouraged by Workplace Health Connect, which we think very much fills a vacuum. We had always anticipated that there would be difficulty publicising the service and getting people to use it, so we certainly take the view at the moment that we should continue with the pilot, but as I say we want to evaluate that and will not just proceed to further expansion if in fact there is a real reason for not doing so, or for altering the nature of the service.

Q32 Mrs Humble: Finally a question on that. Will you have the resources to properly fund the roll out, and secondly, to what extent do you think employers should be contributing more to initiatives to improve health and safety? Where should that balance lie?

Mr Podger: I think, on the first point, the situation is at the moment that we are not funded to fully roll out Workplace Health Connect and therefore if one assumes, as I still hope is the case, that actually as the pilot progresses we actually have a proper level of take-up which is maintained and that in relation to whatever changes we need to make we are satisfied we have a satisfactory level of service, then we would be looking for extra resources if we were actually to roll the service out nationwide. I think that is the key thing. I think you are absolutely right in saying that the employer in the area of occupational health, as in the more traditional area of health and safety, has a very key role and in fairness I think much of HSE's activity, particularly under the Strategy, is very much, I think one could say, aimed at gingering up employers into actually meeting their obligations. We do not want to get into a situation where we exclusively had this responsibility. As the Commission has always said, this actually rests with the employers and also to some extent with the employees actually to make the system work. Therefore, much of what we do is about building partnerships, encouraging people on the employers' side to actually themselves take the initiative, and there are lots of initiatives of that nature.

Mrs Humble: Thank you.

Q33 Chairman: I do not know if this is coincidental, but we have got a window cleaner there who seems to have a very unsafe system of work!

Mr Podger: I will send an inspector round!

Q34 Miss Begg: I noticed he is abseiling but he does have a safety helmet on! I have a few questions on the whole area of occupational health and job retention. You have a Health, Work and Well-being Strategy, which is a key component of the Government's agenda to improve the health and well-being of the working-age population. How has the Strategy progressed so far and how may it develop in the future?

Mr Callaghan: I think it is fair to say it is early days on this Strategy. On 3 May we had a conference at which health ministers and DWP ministers spoke and one key element of that conference was the unveiling of a Charter, which was signed by a number of organisations. Dame Carol Black has been appointed as the new National Director and I regard that as a very important appointment. Dame Carol Black, who is an eminent physician, will be, I hope, working closely with the Commission, the DWP and the Department of Health. I think this is a very important agenda, but I would not want to underestimate the difficulties of cross-departmental working. Joined up government is a very nice thing and a very easy thing to say, but I have to say it is much more difficult in practice. But there is certainly a nexus very well brought out by a video which was shown at the conference between the work which we do in preventing accidents and ill health in the workplace, the role of the medical service in terms of treatment, and what more can be done to rehabilitate people back to work. This is a complex matter. It involves a number of different agencies. It is quite early days into this Strategy, but I think it is an important issue for us just in terms of the days lost through ill health and obviously it is a key issue for our department in terms of the huge incapacity benefit bill.

Q35 Miss Begg: Are you going to be in a position, or is anybody going to be in a position to measure the numbers of these laws and how that is improving as a result of the Strategy, or is that too nebulous?

Mr Callaghan: We certainly measure the days lost through injury and ill health and we also measure the incidence rate of occupational ill health, and we have more specialist surveys looking at things like occupational asthma. So we certainly measure that. I think it is going to be difficult, perhaps, to pick out the precise impact of the Strategy, but I think we would be looking to ensure that when someone is ill they get treatment quickly because early intervention has been proved to be one of the key issues here, and also that they return to work as early as possible. We do know, for example, that one of the reasons why the days lost through stress have increased so much is because actually each case of stress now takes much longer. The average duration of a stress case now is a month, whereas five years ago it would have been 14 days, and those are average figures. So I think these are things you can measure, and although I think it is worth saying that we have a pretty good record on health and safety in this country, I do not think we are as good as many other countries in getting people back to work.

Q36 Miss Begg: Have you picked up any change in the attitude of the health services, that they will actually take someone's employment status into account when they are deciding upon the urgency of the treatment, or are they still doing things purely on a straightforward clinical need as opposed to the fact that unless another person gets that treatment he is losing money and potentially losing his job versus someone else who may not have that element in his life? Or maybe someone has got a job which he can continue to do with the injury, as opposed to the one who cannot continue to do the job until he gets the medical intervention?

Mr Podger: I think the honest answer is that it is unlikely that we would have that information. I am bound to say I have no information which would suggest that that has occurred, and I understand entirely why you ask the question. As you will appreciate, in essence our end of the joint working is more at the preventative end and trying to get people to take seriously their responsibilities for occupational health. So really I am afraid at that stage I think we just would not know, to be honest.

Q37 Miss Begg: Do you not think you should have some of that responsibility, that that should be one of the key elements of your role, to make sure that businesses do take that responsibility for occupational health, and where the health services perhaps cannot help that they should actually have a responsibility to have insurance so that they can buy in that health service for the workforce?

Mr Podger: I think I have indicated that we clearly do see it as a responsibility on us to actually encourage employers to have occupational health services and we see that as being very much in their interests as well as that of their employees. I think inherently - and I speak as somebody who used to work for the Department of Health - the HSE would get into slightly difficulties if it sought to arrogate itself the determination of priorities of admission to hospital, for example, which is not to dispute your point, I am merely saying I think it is an issue which is difficult for us to deal with.

Q38 Miss Begg: The HSC Business Plan lists a number of initiatives to contribute to reducing work-related ill health and the number of working days lost. Are these initiatives appropriately targeted? Can you get into small businesses, or is that yet another burden which small businesses feel is just one burden too far and they do not have time to consider it?

Mr Callaghan: Workplace Health Connect was indeed designed to offer a free advice service to small businesses. Our long-term goal is to make sure that everyone in the country can have access to some form of occupational health support, but it is clearly impracticable for a small firm to offer the infrastructure which a large firm could offer. I think a lot of the work around Workplace Health Connect is to try and steer people to the right solutions, and the most cost-effective solutions as well, and that is the basis of the Strategy. I think we are targeting the right hazards just in terms of days lost, stress and muscular disorders, not forgetting of course some of the traditional causes of ill health. I am sure we are targeting the right areas. I would agree with you, the small firms market is a very tough one to crack. It is one of the reasons why we think we can make progress via campaigns because you could increase our resources ten-fold and the number of inspectors ten-fold but we still would not obviously get around to every small firm in the country.

Q39 Miss Begg: Do you have any evidence that there is a difference between unionised workplaces and non-unionised? If the union is involved in the workplace are they more likely to either be engaged with their own workforce on in fact reporting problem as opposed to non-unionised?

Mr Callaghan: I think it is fair to say that workforces which are unionised have a better health and safety record than those which are not, but of course union membership now is concentrated either in the public sector or large firms in the private sector and is really negligible amongst small firms. So that market is one which is, as I said, a very difficult one to reach and many small firms, of course, do not belong to their trade association or the CBI and so some of the routes via intermediaries are not there. I am sure we are not the only organisation wrestling with this problem, but I think we are looking at imaginative ways in which we might reach the small firms market.

Q40 Miss Begg: Is there a way to almost go past the employer in terms of the small businesses and making the employee the one who is responsible or the one who is aware, the one who may be challenging unsafe practices, or is that just too difficult? I know it is hard enough in a unionised place for someone to report something they suspect is a danger or is difficult. You have got a Workers' Safety Adviser Challenge Fund, which is meant to be engaging employees in health and safety issues. Is that working? Is that actually getting at the people who may be in the position to alert their employer to the fact that something is not right here, or not?

Mr Callaghan: We have just announced the third round of projects under the Workers' Safety Adviser Challenge Fund, but to the best of my knowledge we are only mid-way through the evaluation of years one and two at the moment, so I cannot give you a firm answer on that at the moment.

Mr Podger: But I think we have to accept what you say. This is exactly the problem with which we are wrestling, which is how in fact we can actually influence small firms in a way which is acceptable from their perspective and is also cost-effective in terms of the intervention. As my Chairman said, that is one of the reasons for Workplace Health Connect. I think also there is one other point about small firms which perhaps at times gets neglected, which is that often there is a very strong interpersonal relationship, indeed people may literally be related who are actually working in small firms and I think this is an area we have slightly neglected in terms of the responsibility people may feel towards each other in small firms. I think that is something which is beginning to come out in our investigations, but frankly it would be wrong to say we have yet worked out how to capitalise on that. I do think that is a rather neglected view of small firms and I think it is an area we ought to concentrate on more because there is an obvious human appeal to acting in the way we would like.

Q41 Miss Begg: You mentioned the Welfare Reform Green Paper and one of the issues which have come out of that is that it is much better if people do not fall onto incapacity benefit in the first place and if they can be helped to remain in work, either in the job they are doing or to be redeployed, but there is a huge number of initiatives aimed at reducing work-related ill health in the hope that it will include job retention. Are these things actually measured and assessed? Do we know which ones work, which ones are more effective?

Mr Callaghan: Are you thinking about government schemes? The DWP obviously has been piloting a number of schemes. Or do you mean what the companies are doing?

Q42 Miss Begg: Well, both, because I know that industry has the step change initiative, but there are obviously the things which the Government is doing. I am trying to think of some of the organisations - there is the one for employers and disability - which all have various initiatives to try and improve job retention, but is anybody doing any work basically to find out which of these different initiatives are the most effective and most efficient?

Mr Callaghan: In terms of our competence, which is really what employers are doing, we are collecting more and more examples of good practice and it seems to me that what is more effective is for companies to speak to companies about the business benefits which they have found through adopting such measures. It is one of the reasons why we are cooperating with business in the community on awards around the whole area of health work and well-being, because it does seem to me that rather than the Regulator saying, "This is a good thing for you," for businesses to say, "Actually, we've done this. It has improved morale, it has saved on the costs of re-hiring people and training them and actually our bottom line has improved," that seems to be far more persuasive than something coming from the Regulator. So I am rather in the market for getting good case studies and publicising them.

Q43 Miss Begg: But there is still anecdotal evidence that for employers it is much easier for them just to give them early retirement or to just say, "Well, you are ill, you have come to the end of your statutory sick pay and, you know, away you go."

Mr Callaghan: I agree and in the short run that seems to be often the more attractive option. I hope we can provide more and more examples of compelling case studies where companies have taken a longer term view and it has paid off.

Q44 Miss Begg: So you think that is not really the role of the Regulator?

Mr Callaghan: I think the Regulator has a key role, but I am thinking about what are the arguments which are going to be the most persuasive and compelling with companies which, I would have to say, might view taking on board big occupational health responsibilities with some trepidation. I think companies do have a clear duty under the Health, Safety and Work Act to look after the health, safety and welfare of their employees, but I think particularly when we look at some of the less obvious hazards - with people who fall off ladders this is fairly obvious, but the issues around musculoskeletal disorders, exposure to chemicals, stress, issues which often have a long latency period, are not easy to spot. Obviously the Regulator has a key role but, as I have said, our job is to influence behaviour and then try and improve performance.

Q45 Miss Begg: Can I look at it from the other side, where the Regulator actually could be a barrier to getting people into work, because very often health and safety concerns are quoted as the reasons why you cannot take on someone with a particular condition to do a particular job, spuriously very often, but they are very often used. What are you doing to disabuse people of the fact the health and safety may be an issue? Do you ever go into a workplace and say, not necessarily, "You have got it wrong," but, "Yes, you have got concerns about health and safety by employing this particular person in this particular role, but here is how you can solve it. Here is how you can get around it. Here is how you can make the workplace safe for this individual"?

Mr Callaghan: I have talked about WAS and about this very topic, and indeed I think HSC and TRC have just been working on a joint project addressing this very issue. I think the sorts of examples you quote are part of some of the common health and safety myths which are around and I hope we can dispel them.

Mr Podger: As I have just said, from an HSC point of view I agree with you entirely that we do not want to get into a situation where people who could work perfectly well and perfectly safety in employment are apparently told they cannot because of spurious health and safety reasons. Certainly I think it is fair to say that our inspectors - and I go out obviously periodically with our inspectors - are alive to spurious health and safety and are also alive to the need to actually help disabled people continue in their employment in a safe way. It is in no sense our view to drive health and safety beyond where it should reasonably go and very often through adaptations of machinery, through alterations of working patterns which simply fall out of the workplace you can accommodate these things.

Q46 Miss Begg: That is true, and my question was obviously about those with disabilities who are in the workplace, but the other question is those with disabilities who require care who find they cannot get the carers to do the very jobs they cannot do themselves because, again, constantly health and safety is quoted, and that is certainly true of carers going into a person's own home. How are you again helping to make sure that a person with a disability, perhaps a horrendous disability, gets the care that person needs without it impacting negatively on the person who is doing the caring?

Mr Podger: I think the honest truth is that we can only address this question really at two levels. One is that we do try on the general level to actually address excessive, and I would say obsessive health and safety concerns which have no basis in reality and which are not proportionate to the risk at all. I am bound to say, as you implied earlier in your question, that the kinds of stories which relate to these claims by others are a source of great difficulty to us in our work because they affect our public reputation, although we have no responsibility for them, and they also give rise to frankly a degree of cynicism when we put forward health and safety requirements which are actually very well based and are proportionate to risk. We have indeed done some studies in risk-aversion and that is part of the public campaigning. I regret to say - and I am now thinking in terms of addressing this specific problem in relation to specific workplaces - it seems to me we can only actually look to our inspectors to provide advice in the circumstances they find. I think that is the only point where really we can help. But generally speaking, I have to say I think our inspectors are very alive to actual ways in which in particular work-settings risks can be reduced and are in no way out to make unnecessary requirements or requirements which should inhibit disabled people from doing things which they legitimately could do.

Q47 Miss Begg: If an individual complained that he could not find a carer to do the work he required, would your inspectors be willing to go into that person's home to do a risk assessment audit to make sure he can then hand it on to any of the caring organisations which they are trying to employ a carer through?

Mr Podger: No. That would not be within our competence, frankly, which is not to deny the need to do that. I am just saying that quite honestly it is not something the HSE could do. We would not do that.

Q48 Miss Begg: Do you think there is a need for somebody to bring in something like that?

Mr Podger: I share the general view, which obviously emerges very strongly from your question, that the more we can actually help people to stay in work where they have disabilities, the better it is for them and the better it is for society.

Mr Callaghan: On the particular issue about the lifting of people with disabilities, this was tested in a court case and I think the judge referred favourably to our own guidelines, which did not impose a blanket ban on lifting. I think our role is to try and make sure that the advice and guidance which we give is practicable.

Miss Begg: Thank you.

Q49 Michael Jabez Foster: You have talked already about the balance between the advice and the campaigning of your work and the inspection at the other end. I suppose one is the cheap end and one is the expensive end. Have you got the balance right?

Mr Podger: I think the honest answer to that is that it is a question we continually ask ourselves because in fact, contrary to what is often claimed, we continue to invest around the same amount of resource in investigation and enforcement work. What is true, though, is that we have rather more targeted this. We tend to spend more time with fewer businesses, which in our view is well-justified given that we actually quite deliberately select businesses which are either high risk or where there is other reason to think that employees are particularly vulnerable. Our view is very clearly that if you are trying, for example, to deal with work at heights then inspection and enforcement is complementary to public information campaigns, such as the one we have on at the moment, and to our inspectors providing advice. I think it is fair to say I know of no methodology which enables you to calculate precisely what you should have in each pocket. What we try and do is for each particular either business sector or topic to actually work out what seems to us, on the basis of the experience of our colleagues in the field, what we know from the communications angle and the research we have done, to be the proper way of addressing that problem.

Q50 Michael Jabez Foster: The empirical evidence is that people do not get to see an inspector very often and that is what people say to their MPs, that the inspector is never called. It is the old thing where if a policeman is going to come around the corner, you do not burgle a house. That is the feeling which may be out there, that the inspector is never going to call and therefore it does not really matter what you do. Your health and safety reduces its importance to the employer and a culture develops in consequence.

Mr Podger: I personally very much contest that view, to be honest with you, because I think first of all the one thing you can be absolutely certain of is that if actually you neglect health and safety soon enough you are going to have a nasty accident, in which case the inspector most certainly will call, and you do run a very serious risk of ending up on the courts. That is something I personally say and have no hesitation in saying publicly. I think, on the other hand, we have equally to accept that what we really want of employers is that they actually undertake this responsibility not in fear of HSE appearing on the doorstep but because they recognise it is actually their responsibility anyway. I think that is actually a more powerful way forward. So I think we do have to, very much as was suggested by an earlier question, work with good, responsible employers to get these messages out and we have to spend an amount of time in actual public campaigning. The other point is that one does have to ask oneself, is it a good use of public money to engage in extensive inspections of businesses which are regarded as being of low risk and which can be approached in more economic ways? I think you will gather from the way I posed that question what my answer is to that. I think there is a variety of issues here. I also have to say that my own impression from making completely random visits with our own inspectors is that actually quite a few people are living in terror of HSE appearing. I think it is wrong to assume that the current level of inspections does not actually still have a deterrent effect. I think it does.

Q51 Mr Dunne: Could I just put the converse of this point, which is that the Hampton review and the Better Regulation Taskforce have been recommending that a measurement is made of the administrative burden imposed by HSE. Have you made an assessment of the cost on business of the regulations which you have put in place, and are you planning to do so if you have not?

Mr Podger: Yes, we are in fact engaged with the Better Regulation Executive at the moment in precisely that exercise, which I would expect to be published, as to what the burden on industry is. I think you are quite right to say that in a sense here one is inevitably piloting a course and obviously our concern is to take a balanced approach, not to give rise to costs to industry which are not justified, but conversely, and I must say this very strongly, not to expose workers to unacceptable risks simply because industry on costs grounds has a disinclination to address the point. So we try and balance it, and we do certainly engage and have engaged - and I am sure the figures will be published generally as it is an exercise across Whitehall - in precisely these issues. We do, I may say, have an internal unit which actually challenges other proposals which come up from HSE on the basis of whether they are actually justified in terms of the burden they propose, and I think that is a very proper thing for us to do.

Q52 Michael Jabez Foster: I can see the point that one does not want unnecessary regulation, but one does want that which is there to be enforced and the worry is that in 2003 the figure was that you had 1651 front line inspectors, in 2004 1,604 and in 2005 1,530. What is the best number to have? Is it better to have 1600 or 1500?

Mr Podger: The honest answer to that is that nobody actually knows, and if I may say so, having worked in other enforcement areas -

Q53 Michael Jabez Foster: So why do we not have 300?

Mr Podger: Well, indeed. I think what one has to do is to be entirely pragmatic about it. You have to work on the basis from which you start. You then have to be prepared to experiment and innovate, and that is what we have done. As you know, we now have health and safety administrative officers, advisory officers, who actually do an advisory role but not an enforcement role, and if you actually add those numbers back into the numbers we have for inspectors what you actually find is that our front line delivery is essentially the same, which I think is the important point. My own view is that we have to be ready to experiment, to innovate and evaluate what the outcome is. As I say, I think it is just not possible and I have to say, having previously run the food safety area of the Foods Standards Agency, which also has enforcement forces, exactly the same problem arises. There is no agreed method of defining the number of inspectors. So I really do think that all you can do is take as your starting point where you are and then actually be prepared to innovate, if necessary, I may say, in both directions. I think it is important to make that point. If we were to find on a particular issue we need more inspectors, I personally would be very happy to recommend that.

Q54 Michael Jabez Foster: Do you have any European comparators for the amount of inspection which you do compared with your comparators in other European states?

Mr Podger: I do not. I have never seen data on that. There are returns which are made to the European Commission, I think I am right in saying, on enforcement activity, but I am bound to tell you, certainly there are in the food area but the general view is that the information is unreliable.

Q55 Michael Jabez Foster: Because generally our health and safety is at a higher level.

Mr Podger: Absolutely. Yes.

Q56 Michael Jabez Foster: So it may be helpful to know why. One final question: under the efficiency savings, I understand you are bound to deliver about 50 million of efficiency savings by 2007-08. Where are you up to on that? Is it going to result in lower numbers of inspectors, or are the savings coming from somewhere else?

Mr Podger: Yes, we are currently on target to realise these efficiency savings in the terms you have described. These efficiency savings do not come in any way from reducing the numbers of front line staff. They are much more about training to actually run our support arrangements, scientific support, procurement, management of goods and services and IT in a more cost-effective way. I would stress that we are actually very concerned about maintaining our front line delivery, which I think is obviously the point of your question, but as I say, we are equally concerned not just to take a particular mix for granted. We are concerned to experiment.

Q57 Harry Cohen: Has campaigning been reduced as part of that?

Mr Podger: No, the campaigning has not been reduced as part of the efficiency savings and I share what I think is the point of your question. One might well ask whether that would be efficient.

Q58 Natascha Engel: I just wanted to pick up a point which you made earlier about musculoskeletal disorders and RSI. You would agree that partly the reduction we have seen in those is largely due to the fact that we have lost a lot of our manufacturing base, would you not?

Mr Callaghan: I think some of these hazards actually are more prevalent in the service sector than the manufacturing sector. It is certainly true that the composition of the economy has contributed, I think, to an improvement on the safety front. Obviously we have fewer coal miners, fewer people working in heavy industry, and that explains some but not all of the improvement in health and safety. Perhaps just to go back to Mr Foster's point, we do have one of the best safety records in the world actually. I think only Sweden has a better safety record in Europe and I would say that one of the reasons why we have such a good record is that the Commission and the Executive have always applied this mix of intervention techniques. I think I see it as part of my duty and the Commission's to make sure that as the nature of the economy changes we are addressing some of the new issues. So if you go back to the Rowlands Report, I do not think you will find many references to stress, I have to say, or musculoskeletal disorders. You will find lots of problems with dust in coal mines or other problems around people working in heavy industry. So I think one of the key challenges for us is how do we, with HSE and with the local authorities, make sure that we are applying our resources to the changing world of work.

Mr Podger: Just to give an example of that in relation to backs, the point you made, in fact one of the outcomes of last year's Backs campaign has been the work which the airlines have done in consultation with us simply to actually reduce the weight of luggage which you can take on board aeroplanes, which for those of us who do not travel light can seem something of an inconvenience, but actually if you are the man standing at the other end of the carousel it makes a very great deal of difference to your musculoskeletal condition. Airline travel is obviously an example of an industry which is actually booming, so I think we are entitled to say that we have got work going on in those areas which are expanding which give rise to other problems. We have not talked about it today, but another industry which has given rise to more health and safety problems is the environmental recycling industry because, very properly, we are trying to recycle more but that brings problems of its own. So we are very much trying to be active also in these new industries and I think where we can see improvements then we can take credit for them.

Q59 Natascha Engel: So back to the balance between inspection and enforcement, and I want to specifically talk about your business plan, which states that enforcement action has an important deterrent effect. The DWP Departmental Report refers to the TUC and Hazards Report and what they are specifically very worried about is the trend in all enforcement activity falling quite dramatically and they state figures of over 25 per cent in areas such as the number of prosecutions, the number of enforcement notices, the number of inspections and the amount of contact time with employers. Do you share their concern with that, and what specifically are you doing to reverse those figures?

Mr Podger: I think there are issues here. First of all, it is important to understand that when our inspectors are inspecting and they find problems, their immediate reaction (unless the problem is a serious one) is not going to be to engage in informal enforcement action. In fact, when I go out with inspectors very often what they will actually do is they will say, "I want this fixed by Monday. I want you to send a photograph to the office to me so that I know it has been done." That depends on the relative gravity of the issue. It also depends on whether the inspectors consider the employers reliable or not. We should be quite clear on this point, we take more enforcement action where we believe people are not to be relied upon. Equally, it is not the purpose of HSE to create a legal bureaucracy, it is actually the purpose of HSE to get improvements done which will benefit workers' safety, and I think we have to say this. Our object in life is not to have more recourse to the law than we need, but I think it is worth making the point that these statistics you are quoting do not in any way capture the amount of improvement which comes about from agreements between HSE inspectors in the workplace which are then carried out, where people get the evidence and it is carried out. It is not captured in these data and it is very important. Also, as I indicated earlier, in fact our data show that the actual contact we have with employers is in fact consistent. It is not the case that we have reduced it, although as I said earlier in answer to a previous question, it is true that we now actually spend more time with fewer people, which we believe to be justified on the basis of the nature of the risk. In terms of actually proceeding to notices and prosecutions, as I have said, these are not done lightly. The criteria, certainly for prosecutions, are set out on the website, they are laid down by the Commission, and there are also various legal issues. I think it is important also to say that prosecutions are inherently time-consuming. Some of the ones we do are extremely detailed and require a great deal of expert evidence, but I have to say that when I visit offices very often what I do is in fact meet colleagues who are engaged in preparing prosecutions and I always ask them to explain to me what they are doing and why, and I am bound to tell you I have yet to come across a single proposed prosecution where I have not said, "I entirely agree with what you are doing. You are absolutely right." We do have a 95 per cent success record in our prosecutions, which is extremely high by any other comparator, and I think that both indicates that where it is serious we do prosecute and equally that we do not, as it were, prosecute on spec but that we actually bring prosecutions which are deserved and should succeed.

Q60 Natascha Engel: Does that 95 per cent figure capture the 80 per cent of employers who plead guilty?

Mr Podger: It would, yes, but with respect the reason they plead guilty I think is not unrelated to the strength of the prosecution case. We like to think so anyway, but I think it is the case. Our inspectors do do very thorough prosecution cases and I think it is for that reason that there is actually a high number of people who plead guilty.

Q61 Natascha Engel: To come back to your point about the presentation of the data, your argument presumably is that the data has just been presented in a wrong way which does not demonstrate in fact how well you are doing? Is there a different way of presenting it, or have you got plans to present it in a different way?

Mr Callaghan: I have to say it is a rather partial view of what HSC does. I have a duty to report to the minister in terms of how well we are doing on the PSA targets and the test is whether accidents and cases of ill health at work are going up or going down. As I said before, the numbers of over three day incidents (these are the ones which have to be reported by employers to HSC, which then lead HSE to decide should they then inspect that particular workplace) have been going down and I think what was missing from the TUC or Hazards Report - I was not quite clear whether the provenance was the TUC or this organisation called Hazard -

Q62 Natascha Engel: I think the TUC took it from their review.

Mr Callaghan: -- but what was in the report was the fact that the number of over three day injuries was declining. HSE does a lot of things, including inspection, but there are many other activities which contribute to the effort. I agree with you, however, that deterrence is a key issue and one area where I think the deterrence value could be improved, of course, would be if there were higher penalties in the courts and we are certainly looking for the limit in magistrates' courts to be raised. There are some signs, of course, following the Transco case and also the Hatfield case that the courts are taking health and safety failures more seriously and I think higher penalties would have a big deterrence value.

Q63 Mr Dunne: Are you looking at other things? I think in your last evidence to this Committee - I am not sure if you were here in person but there was a suggestion that you were looking at an alternative to purely fines and certainly this was an issue which part of this Committee considered when looking at the draft Corporate Manslaughter Bill, whether there should be an individual liability on directors, which the Government actually ruled out although the Committee recommended it. Is that something which you think should be appropriate to be able to pursue directors for imprisonment or disqualification?

Mr Callaghan: We are certainly looking at the issue of penalties in our own terms, that we are reviewing the Commission's enforcement policy statement. Also pertinent to this is the outcome of the Hampton review, which you have mentioned, Mr Dunne, which set up a work stream led by Professor McCroy, who has just published a report. I am afraid I have not read it, but I think it has just come out, where he is looking at the whole issue of penalties. I think one of the key findings of the Hampton Report was that penalties - and this is across the whole regulatory structure - were rather low and were not acting as a deterrent. I understand the Better Regulation Executive has now published this report and that will be a consultative document and we shall be submitting evidence to that. On the particular issue of directors, we think more use could be made of existing powers for courts to disqualify directors following breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Commission itself has been discussing the quite controversial issue of whether there should be positive duties on directors in addition to those general duties on employers in the Health and Safety at Work Act. It was quite a heated debate, I have to say. Our conclusion - and we discussed this very recently - is that at the moment we do not think the time is right to suggest new duties on directors, but we do think that we should press ahead with more authoritative guidance and we hope the Institute of Directors and other bodies will play a role in this in terms of giving guidance to boards of companies about what they should be doing. Certainly this chimes very well with what I have heard from Miles Templeman and colleagues of the IOD, that they would welcome clear guidance to directors on their role, because there is no doubt from our point of view that the companies which do well on health and safety are ones where directors do show some leadership.

Q64 Natascha Engel: Going back to the kind of balancing act, given the reduced number of duty holders who were prosecuted in 2004-05, do you think your decision to focus on prevention rather than reacting to incidents was the correct one? I know it is back to the balancing act, but it is an important question.

Mr Podger: I think we all have to accept that obviously we would all prefer to prevent an accident at work rather than to prosecute somebody after it took place. I think that has to be the starting point. Nevertheless, there are reasons simply for justice why people should be prosecuted when they have been extremely negligent. There is also the deterrence issue, which is certainly there, I do not seek to dispute that. I think we feel that actually the move towards prevention, which the Commission authorised, is the correct one and I think people are very happy inspecting on that basis. We feel that is what we want to do. Our absolute prime concern is to try and stop these dreadful accidents taking place.

Q65 Mr Dunne: I have just got one more question in relation to your working with local authorities. I would be grateful if you could update us on whether you think the joint partnership in the overlap of roles with local authorities in relation to health and safety is working or whether more could be done, what your views are.

Mr Callaghan: I certainly think more can be done. I think the relationship between HSC and local authorities, to be frank, has not always been happy and I think there is an inherent tension between elected local authorities confronting, as it were, the centre. But I think improvements have been made. We can offer a more detailed note if necessary, but we have been, I think, working far more in partnership with local authorities. I think many local authorities thought that they were being lectured to or told to do something by HSC and that did not fit in with environmental health officers' own responsibilities to elected members. So we have had a number of different work streams, including working with elected members to raise the profile of health and safety in their work and show that in looking at the overall sort of thematic issues which local authorities are engaged in we can contribute to the agenda of safer communities. I think that is beginning to work. On an operational level, environment health officers now have access to all the information which our own inspectors have and Intranet has been opened up for the use of local authorities and there is far more joint working. Indeed, in some areas there is something called "joint warranting". So there are divided lines in something called the Enforcing Authority Regulations between HSC and local authorities, which I have to say get in the way of common sense. Joint warranting allows actually for HSE inspectors to go into the local authority, and vice versa, and actually this practical joint working is improving but it would be wrong for me to say that it is perfect in every part of the country. But I think things are beginning to move and I do regard the potential resource in local authorities as a key one and I think it has been under-utilised.

Q66 Mr Dunne: I can just very briefly give you an example of one where it broke down in my constituency not that long ago, where there was an incidence of fly infestation and it appeared that the flies were coming from a farm, which is your responsibility, and were infesting a nearby dwelling, which was the local authority's responsibility, and nobody knew what to do about it.

Mr Callaghan: I think there are many others which you could quote.

Q67 Mr Dunne: More serious ones.

Mr Callaghan: But I think common sense and joint working is actually solving some of these issues.

Q68 Harry Cohen: Can I ask a quick question about your record-keeping, because I did see in a recent edition of the Hazards magazine that I think they even had a demonstration about it, that you were not keeping old cautions, for example, or were not making them available for people who wanted to see them. Can I ask you about that?

Mr Podger: Yes, indeed, you are very welcome to do so. I would actually welcome an opportunity to put it on the record. What in fact happened is that before my time, I think last year, HSE took the decision to remove from its website records of successful company prosecutions which went over five years. This was done on the basis of legal advice that in fact this was a wider consequence of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. Colleagues on the trade union side certainly raised with me precisely this issue. They found this very undesirable, they would wish to have access to the information, and in fact as a consequence of that, since the reason HSE did it was on legal advice, I have actually sought further legal advice as to whether this is actually correct legal advice or not and I am waiting to hear it. So that is the position.

Q69 Justine Greening: One of the major health and safety bills which may be coming through Parliament at some time is obviously the Corporate Manslaughter Bill, which has had some challenges. Are you expecting it to be introduced in this parliamentary session we are in at the moment?

Mr Callaghan: As you know, I gave evidence to the joint inquiry. This is in the Home Office's territory at the moment. We do support the Bill and I look forward to its early introduction. I do expect a Bill before the recess, but obviously it is for the Home Office to answer.

Q70 Justine Greening: That is very helpful. I think the Government committed back in 2000 to remove the Crown immunity for health and safety offences. Do you expect that to be part and parcel of any legislation brought forward?

Mr Callaghan: We certainly hope that at an appropriate stage the Government would use the opportunity to remove Crown immunity for health and safety offences. That has been a consistent policy of ours.

Q71 Justine Greening: One of the other likely hot topics is the question of directors' duties and whether health and safety should actually be a statutory duty. I am aware that the HSE provided a paper to the Commission on this recently. Can you tell me from both of your perspectives what the conclusion of the HSE was, but also the HSC, because I understand there possibly was some difference of opinion and it would just be helpful to get the evidence about why that happened and what the next steps are in terms of coming to some conclusion on what you think needs to happen?

Mr Callaghan: Quite properly, Geoffrey and his colleagues in HSE did not offer a view. They gave the Commission options and they gave the Commission the benefit of extensive soundings with our key stakeholders. As I was saying in reply to Mr Dunne's question, the Commission discussed this at some length and there are divided views. It is not always a split between the employers versus the others, there are different views, I have to say, on the employers' side. So at the moment the Commission has said that now is not the time to go down the route of a sort of positive duty on directors for health and safety and instead we want to concentrate on guidance. That is where we are. I am sure we will return to this and I have to say, you have rightly asked questions about corporate manslaughter but until we know what is coming out of the Corporate Manslaughter Bill it is quite difficult to look at this in isolation and of course there are developments and a number of changes to what is happening on company law, including reporting and requirements under the IFR. I think whatever we did would have to go with the grain of wider developments in terms of obligations on companies, but I come back to the key issue. What we are trying to do is change director behaviour and there is no doubt that where directors show leadership on health and safety then we see improvements. There again, I am very much persuaded that peer group pressure is important. We have published a number of case studies showing how director leadership has improved health and safety and we are keen to work with the IOD, CBI and other bodies to promulgate that message.

Justine Greening: Thank you.

Chairman: Can I thank you very much for your attendance today and for your candour. You recognise the Committee does place high importance on this and we wish you every success in your CSR negotiations.