Supplementary memorandum submitted by
GMB takes the issue of health, safety and welfare
at work very seriously. Over 15,000 GMB safety representatives
on every working day attempt to engage in constructive dialogue
with their employers over a diverse range of industries across
both the public and private sector.
GMB welcomes the further opportunity to respond
to the Select Committee call for written submissions and would
like to respond to the specific questions as follows.
The Legislative frameworkis the regulatory
burden on businesses proportionate?
GMB understands well why this question has been
framed in this way, and feels that this is part of what may be
seen as the ongoing propaganda war on legislation by both some
business organizations and sections of the (right wing) media.
By constantly stating that the burdens on business are disproportionate,
particularly for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) this becomes
an accepted truth with little hard evidence to back this up.
SMEs are notorious for pleading ignorance in
relation to the relevant legislation around health, safety and
welfare. The project set up by HSE/DWP on Workers Safety Advisors
(WSA) which ran from July 2004 to March 2007 was specifically
designed in an attempt to get the "health and safety message"
into this sector.
Almost without fail all the WSA operatives came
up against a real lack of knowledge on the legislation, the need
for safety policies, the requirement for risk assessments and
the involvement of the workforce. Recently the HSE has been looking
to draw up guidance on exposure to asbestos, within the small
construction sector, and have acknowledged that this is a "difficult
area to reach". They have therefore decided to try out a
pilot project (in North West England) using the media to get their
advice across. This would seem to belie the claims that regulations
are a burden on business as much of the evidence points to a general
ignoring of legislation, regulations and guidance.
With regard to larger organizations the recent
guidance issues by the Institute of Directors (IoD), in conjunction
with the HSC, entitled "Leading health and safety at work"
recognizes the benefits of good health and safety at work. In
particular it states that" Addressing health and safety should
not be seen as a regulatory burden: it offers significant opportunities".
GMB would endorse this approach but would also
question again the process by which Regulatory Impact Assessments
(RIA) are made. We feel that there are a number of inherent problems
with the current approach.
Firstly we are not convinced that the expertise
exists within the Department to effectively do more than "guesstimate"
any final figures surrounding the introduction of any legislation.
And secondly there appears to be little or no follow up to evaluate
if the figures are accurate or not.
EU DIRECTIVES INTO
GMB has sympathy to some extent with the situation
that the HSE/C finds itself in. First it has to ensure that any
legislation is transposed into UK law, hopefully in an understandable
manner while having to meet legal duties Then it has to issue
guidance, which is again constrained by the need to ensure that
is both understandable and quasi legalistic. It is easier for
a trade union, such as GMB, to take HSE guidance and make it comprehensible
for workers than for the HSE to easily do so. Largely the HSE
do a reasonable job in transposing EU legislation, though due
to the allocation of resources (more of which later) increasingly
guidance is being published on the website rather than in hard
copy. This may not always be accessible to all those who might
need the information, and again sole traders or SMEs may be particularly
hard hit as they may not have access to technology or just be
unaware of the new guidance etc.
The guidance issued by the IoD, already mentioned,
is perhaps just one area where the incoming Corporate Manslaughter
and Corporate Homicide Act will impact on organizations. Obviously
it is difficult to tell if the unfortunate rise in workplace deaths
in 2006-07 was as a direct result of the discussion on the proposed
Bill being seen as weaker than originally thought by the various
campaigning and pressure groups, including the trade unions, due
to the exclusion of individual director's liability, and therefore
a psychological easing up on vigilance by organisations. However,
it would seem from the guidance issued by the Justice Ministry,
which would appear in the first instance to be fairly rigorous,
and the close scrutiny that the Bill had through both Houses of
Parliament, that there will be an increased awareness of the consequences
if there is a corporate failure to deal with serious situations.
Some of the outcomes will not be measurable until the Act is passed
and the first legal test case complete.
Again with reference to the director's duties
under occupational health and safety while the document is a positive,
and to us a logical, step unless it is used by any enforcement
agency when checking the safety systems in place, it will only
be paper guidance with little practical application. Its application
in practice should form part of any regular documentary check
into how a business is performing in relation to health and safety.
As the number of people at work grows, and the
diversity of both the workforce (gender, ethnicity and rehabilitation)
and the nature of employment (smaller employers, casualisation,
self-employment and transitory employment) it seems perverse that
the HSE is expected to undergo year on year cuts of 5% for at
least three years. It is already well documented that the expectation
of a workplace visit has moved from every seven years to greater
than every 10. Increasingly it would seem that these visits are
no longer proactive but purely reactive, and even here a visit
is often restricted to very serious accidents.
Of course there is always a need to evaluate
the way in which resources are used, but even if the claim that
there would be no effect on frontline staff, cuts anywhere in
the service can be detrimental as the other staff, if employed
by the Department, could be used as liaison/ information officers
for those very sectors and employers who are hard to reach (both
inside and outside construction.
One scenario which GMB, and we are sure other
trade unions, would not welcome would be the temporary transfer
of resources from one industrial sector to another because of
a perceived problem in that sector at that time. All sectors should
have resources allocated on the basis of proportionality, both
in terms of need and size.
The relocation of HSE HQ from Rose Court (London)
to Bootle could have far reaching consequences for the future
of HSE. Obviously when change is forced upon workers morale will
be deeply affected. GMB fears a tipping point being reached here.
If experienced staff and inspectors do not relocate there is a
need to replace themin itself not an easy situation. But
if the level of knowledge and experience falls below a certain
threshold then it could be irreversible. Already in the Nuclear
Inspectorate there is a shortfall of 35 inspectors reported even
with an offer of a 15% premium in salary. GMB feels that this
may in, a relatively short period of time, be replicated across
the whole HSE. Many private sector organizations welcome the inclusion
of inspectors onto their payroll, often with better terms and
conditions, leading also to a reduced public service ethos within
the remaining workforce.
As a modern society evolves some of the demands
placed upon regulators, for enforcement and guidance will change.
The industrial landscape in the UK has changed from a manufacturing
to a service based economy. There has been a consequent shift
towards other work related problems such as musculoskeletal disorders
(MSDs) and stress. The HSE is also asked to intervene in public
diseases such as MRSA or Foot and Mouth outbreaks, as well as
prosecutions against the Metropolitan Police. As in the problem
with recruiting Nuclear inspectors and incidents such as the Buncefield
explosion it seems clear that there is already not enough back
Without the appropriate resources the HSE will
continue to fail to meet the PSA targets. As the workforce becomes
better educated they will not accept, rightly, the working conditions
their forebears suffered (a situation that will also hopefully
apply to incoming workers as awareness increases). GMB calls for
all cuts to be reversed and an increase in funding to be made
to meet the increasing demands of a 21st century workforce.
GMB has made this next point before but will
reiterate it again with regards to enforcement and resources.
The other main regulator in workplaces are the Local Authorities
through their Environmental Health Officers (EHO). It is common
knowledge that each year local authorities are squeezed for resources
and limited in their local ability to raise revenue, whatever
the political persuasion at Westminster.
This has consequences in their ability to function
on health and safety enforcement at a local level. Many authorities
will choose to prioritise their environmental health activities,
understandably, and will concentrate on food safety and noise
abatement with others areas falling behind. As the service sector
continues to grow an evaluation of the role of "who should
enforce what" allied to the total resources allocated to
enforcement should be undertaken. Politically it is often easier
to allocate resources from the general fund rather than the "local"
As a trade union GMB believes that the meaningful
involvement of the workforce is paramount to ensuring good health
and safety standards within a workplace. Every study undertaken
highlights that this considerably reduces accidents and ill-health.
However, there has never been a prosecution by the HSE following
a complaint on a lack of consultation with reps or the workforce
and safety reps become cynical that the law only seems to apply
when it suits. In effect the provisions of the "brown book"(The
Safety Reps and Safety Committee Regulations) are never properly
enforced. A HSC consultation on Worker Involvement in 2006 ended
with no change, despite an overwhelming response in favour of
safety reps being involved in risk assessments, and the employer
having to respond in writing when a rep raises a health and safety
problem in similar fashion. The final decision was that these
were not needed, and obviously with the HSE already stretched
this could be seen as understandable from a resources point of
view but it doesn't help to improve the matter where it countsin
GMB has recently responded to the Dame Carol
Black review of occupational health services but are happy to
clarify the main points for this submission. It is obvious that
occupational health provision is patchy. Even where an organization
does attempt to use such services often they resort to using local
GP practices who do not necessarily understand the nature of the
work involved. This is particularly important with regard to heavy/physical
work in an ageing population. There is a clear need for standardized
/specialist occupational health providers. However, there is the
obvious issue of cost. Should the state contribute? Or smaller
employers club together collectively to get decent, inexpensive
provision Under the Disability Discrimination Act there is a need
for "reasonable adjustments" to be made following the
onset of a debilitating condition or after a disabling accident.
However, the outcome is also dependant on the size and resources
of an organization. A cynic might suggest that staying small is
a logical proposition in these circumstances to enable an opt-out
on having to make too much effort in rehabilitation etc.
Access to rehabilitation is vital, particularly
so in light of the Government's stated intention to lessen the
burden on the benefit system and encourage people back into the
workplace. Again this will need funding in some way and should
also be backed up by scientific research into such areas as RSI
(not to be confused with MSDs). However, there is no legal requirement
to even consider rehabilitation which does not tie in with the
Government's aims. With its currently limited resources HSE may
not be best placed to deal with this part of the agenda, though
it does need a joined up approach if other departments are to
The most hazardous occupations in the UK are
in three main areas, namely Construction, Agriculture and the
Waste Industry. GMB have extensive membership in the first and
third and all three have a number of factors in commonheavy
manual work, mostly male workers and mobile workforces.
With regard to the waste industry GMB sits on
the HSE body (the Waste Industry S&H ForumWISH for
short) and is part of the attempt to engage the workforce and
their management in seeking to change the culture and approach
towards safety and welfare issues. The fragmentation of the industry
due to privatization and the continued growth in recycling make
this a difficult area to monitor.
GMB was grateful to be asked to the Construction
Safety Summit called by the Secretary of State for DWP in September.
This was in response to a rise in the number of deaths within
the industry the previous year. There was a consensus around the
table on the need to work together in improving safety. This would
mean ensuring worker involvement and it was interesting that an
employers organization raised the issue of using WSAs in the industry.
At the time of writing this submission dialogue is continuing
on the industry.
At a Hazards Conference in the Netherlands some
years ago the best practice on building sites was to pick a worker,
at random, to conduct a weekly site inspection. Whatever the report
there were no sanctions placed on the employee. In the Irish Republic,
where the safety culture is similar to the UK, it has been shown
that the only material difference to improving site safety is
the active presence of one or more trade union safety reps. GMB
has called for the recognition threshold for safety reps to be
lower than for other industrial situations, as it is often on
those hard to reach sites that the main problems occur.
Safety issues for migrant workers are nothing
new in the UK. If there is an opportunity for exploitation on
some by some then they will invariably take it. To the trade unions
it is workers safety that is the issue not the origin of the worker.
GMB does recruit within the "new" labour force but there
are practical difficulties, not least from employers reluctance
to grant access as they may have something to hide. The legislation
on Gangmasters, their licensing and their enforcement was welcome
but did not go far enough. It should be extended into all industries
where migrant, and exploited workers are found. In addition, it
would be logical to bring this under the umbrella of the HSE for
enforcement purposes (indeed it might make both practical and
(extra) resource sense to bring all safety related enforcement
under their umbrella eg all aspects of working time).
GMB has set up specific "nationality"
branches to deal with these issues, in the short term, but would
seek integration with existing branches as the migrant workers
increasingly become assimilated. Currently this is a better way
of communicating messages, such as health and safety messages
in an understandable way.
Some industries, the food and drink manufacturers
spring to mind, have produced good advice on all sorts of issues
including language and cultural difficulties, out of necessity.
But again smaller, more difficult to reach, and remote, employers
could be a problem.
GMB over the years has always tried to be a
critical friend to the HSE and HSC. We have been part of many
of the tripartite bodies set up to consult and engage on a range
of issues and industries. This continues even as the industrial
However, we currently fear for the continued
competency of the HSE if the proposed cuts in budget and subsequent
further cuts in staff take place. All organizations have a tipping
point and at a time when there is an increase in the working population,
and its diversity, this is not the time for a cut in either frontline
or backroom staff. GMB Congress receives an increasing number
of motions annually calling for the cuts to enforcement to be
reversed. And that is before the current proposals. All taxpayers,
including GMB members are entitled in a civilized society to expect
protection at work. Where there is trade union recognition this
is often more comprehensive than other workplaces, but even there
the need to involve HSE can arise. Currently in truth this is
the health and safety issue at the top of every trade union agenda.