Memorandum submitted by the Trades Union
The TUC is the representative body for 70 trade
unions representing over 6.5 million workers.
The TUC is hugely supportive of the work that
the HSE, and its staff do, and believe strongly it the ethos that
underpins it. The trade unions, and the members these unions represent,
would want the TUC to place on record our enormous regard for
The HSWA generally is still fit for purpose.
The TUC believes that the HSWA, in itself, requires only limited
review to ensure that it reflects the reality of working life
in the 21st century. The main issue is its enforcement, which
is dealt with later in this submission.
There has been a trend in recent years to be
apologetic about health and safety in general, and particularly
regulation and enforcement. Regulation is seen as a "burden
of business" rather than the hallmark of a civilised society.
We are concerned on pressure from some parts
of Government to move away from the regulatory framework towards
a "voluntary" approach. The experience in all other
areas, including seat belts, smoking restrictions and crash helmets
is that the voluntary approach does not work and that only a statutory
duty, backed up by enforcement where necessary will ensure compliance.
Where voluntarism has been attempted in the health and safety
field, such as Ireland and the USA, the experience has not been
positive. We do however welcome and support the work done by the
HSE to simplify regulations and administrative requirements as
these make for better, more effective regulation where the level
of protection is not reduced.
HEALTH & SAFETY
HEALTH & SAFETY
The TUC believes that the HSE/C provide an excellent
service and its staff are of an extremely high standard. The TUC
sees most of the difficulties of the organisation as stemming
from restrictions in the resources available rather than organic
The proposed merger between the Commission and
Executive is broadly supported by the TUC, who believe that, so
long as the tri-partite structure is maintained this will allow
the Commission to have a more strategic overview of the work of
the Executive and also provide a structure more in keeping with
the 21st century.
The TUC welcomes the fact that the Commission
and Executive has now taken a more active role in occupational
health issues, including issues around stress and sickness absence,
but believes that this work is now at risk if the proposed cuts
in the HSE budget go ahead.
In recent years the demands on the HSE have
increased in a number of important areas. These include: Occupational
health issues like stress and MSDs which make up over 70% of sickness
absence; construction, where the house building boom and the London
Olympics have lead to increased activity rates in the industry
together with incidents like crane collapses; the chemical industry,
in the light of the incidents at Buncefield and Texas City; in
the workforce generally with the increases in the number of migrant
workers and contractorisation; public safety, where there is more
demand for the HSE to get more involved in issues such as gas
safety and hospital-acquired infections; off-shore oil rigs where
the increased price of oil has meant that aging rigs that were
due to be scrapped are now having their working lives extended;
nuclear regulation if nuclear new build proceeds.
The Department for Work and Pensions is proposing
that the HSE should receive a 5% real terms cut in its budget
each year from 2008-09 to 2010-11. This is on top of considerable
staffing reductions in recent years. Since 1997 the HSE's workforce
has shrunk from over 4,000 to its current number of under 3,500.
Further cuts of 5% a year in real terms for the next 3 years would
mean that the HSE would have to make reductions in either accident
or ill-health investigations or the proactive work that helps
to maintain them at their current levels. If they go ahead with
the proposed cuts then we will see more injuries, more illness,
and more being spent on medical treatment, sick pay, benefits
The TUC is concerned that, as a result of the
cuts, changes are being proposed that could have a major effect
on the service that the HSE provides. We are particularly concerned
that the proposals to reduce the number of offices and transfer
the vast majority of staff currently in London to Bootle will
have a devastating effect on the ability of the HSE to operate.
It is clear that any move to close the London head office will
lead to around 80% of Rose Court staff leaving the organisation
rather than move. Many of these staff are experienced staff with
a skills and knowledge base that the organisation needs to retain.
The TUC is also concerned about the effect the
resource issue is having on HSE research which was, in the past,
of a world class standard, especially given the general fall in
research into occupational health more widely. In addition the
decision to place all material freely on the web may now be at
risk because of the funding problems.
The business case for increasing resources to
the HSE is obvious. By preventing people becoming ill or injured
through work we can save billions of pounds through sickness absence,
medical costs and compensation.
The level of enforcement of health and safety
is both low and inconsistent. There are more traffic wardens in
London than there are inspectors in the whole of HSE's Field Operations
Directorate for the whole of Great Britain. This means that the
possibility of a visit by an inspector is considerably low. Although
Lord Robens envisaged annual inspections, the current FOD inspected
employer is likely to get a visit, on average once every 10.8
years. In fact the number of inspections has fallen from 116,652
in 1996-97 to 55,195 in 2004-05. At the same time the number of
locations inspected by FOD have gone up by over 20%
The TUC also has concern over the levels of
enforcement activity instigated by the HSE. The number of prosecutions
has fallen from 1986 in 2001-02 to 1012 in 2005-06. The number
of improvement notices and prohibition notices has also fallen
dramatically. Given the limited resources available to the HSE
we believe that more use should be made of "blitzes"
and targeted prosecutions.
We also believe that the HSE should be prosecuting
in more cases where an employer is breaching health and safety
law, even is cases where no injury has been sustained. This is
particularly the case where bad practices can lead to an occupational
illness in the future.
The TUC is also concerned over the type and
levels of penalties available. For most offences only a fine is
possible. For some offences there is the possibility of imprisonment
but this is rarely used and is only available for individuals
while most defendants are corporations. While we welcome the recent
Corporate Manslaughter Act we do feel that much more needs to
be done to increase the penalties available.
The average fine for a health and safety offence
is similar to that for "fly-tipping". Last year the
average fine was £27,997, but if the 13 convictions of over
£100,000 are removed the average is £6,219. This shows
that the norm is well under £10,000. The Government committed
itself in 2002 to increase penalties for health and safety offences
but has yet to do so. We also want to see more imaginative penalties
such as corporate probation and "naming and shaming"
orders available, as well as more use of disqualification for
directors. At present there is no legal duty on directors to ensure
that their organisation does not put the health and safety of
their workforce at risk. This is a major omission.
Research has shown that in those workplaces
where trade unions and employers have a joint approach to health
& safety there is a better safety culture than in those without
trade unions. In particular workplaces with union safety representatives
and consultation had half the serious injuries as those without.
After listening to evidence from the trade unions, the 2004 Work
and Pensions Select Committee called on the HSC to revisit their
proposals for new rights of consultation for employees, including
non-unionised workplaces, which had been shelved in 2003. Despite
a further consultation on the issue, which resulted in overwhelming
support for changes to the regulations, the HSC has still not
revised the regulations.
The TUC hopes that the Select Committee will
recognise the major contribution the HSE/C make and call upon
the Government to give it the resources it needs to perform its