Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Senior Occupational Health Advisory Service (SOHAS)

SUMMARY

  HSE has failed to promote a vision of healthy work as an attainable goal, instead colluding with a two-speed labour market; high value added and low skilled sectors running in parallel. The evidence is in the statistics on the burden of occupational ill-health.

    —    The best occupational health performance is seen in EU member states that have adopted a high skill/high value added model.

    —    Clarification of legal requirements is needed.

    —    Extension of the role of employees in prevention of work-related ill-health and rehabilitation should be introduced.

    —    Greater investment in staff should be undertaken.

    —    HSE should consider joint work with NHS staff to identify enforcement priorities and targets.

1.   The legislative framework

  1.1  The principal deficiency in the legislative framework is the failure to transpose the EU Framework Directive into UK law in a manner that makes clear the competences required of those responsible for health and safety under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations. Risk assessment under the MHSWR is a prior activity to the appointment of competent persons to carry out the work required as a result of the risk assessment. The impact has been that, unlike in some other EU member states, risk assessment—the primary activity in prevention of occupational disease—is carried out by people without the requisite skills.

  1.2  This deficiency could have been put right by HSE in clear guidance as to what is required of employers. Such guidance as exists is either inexplicit or poorly publicised (eg in journal articles). There can be no doubt at all that most employers are unaware of the necessary skills and procedures required to prevent work-related ill-health.

  1.3  The Safety Representatives Regulations need to be strengthened to increase the scope for Safety Representatives to carry out health surveys and to assist in the management and activities of occupational health/prevention services.

2.   Resourcing

  The lack of resources for HSE is clear in the field of occupational health, where medically trained staff are in now in very short supply. Other skills relevant to effective inspection and enforcement are also scarce (eg ergonomics). Shortage of staff impacts on inspections through narrowing the focus of inspections, reducing their number and depleting the time available for investigation and enforcement.

3.   Inspection

  There is clear evidence from inspectors and from patients using primary care based advisory services that inspectors find work-related ill-health difficult to inspect for. Consultation with workers on-site can help, but much more effective monitoring must be done by employers; employees need to feel protected from discrimination if they report to employers, and the health records need then to be available to inspectors when they visit.

4.   Migrant workers

  We have strong evidence in our area that the health of migrant workers is at greater risk than of UK national workers. In the strongest case, they are employed casually or by agencies. Agencies take none of the roles expected of employers under the legislation, while the enterprises using agency labour assume that their own responsibilities are less exacting in respect of agency workers.

5.   Occupational health

  5.1  HSE will not achieve the targets for reducing work-related ill-health and related sickness absence without clarifying and publicising what it expects employers to do. The investment required by enterprises (whether through their own staff or contracted out services) includes employing skill medical personnel, skill engineers, ergonomists and hygienists. The whole process of assessing, controlling and monitoring health risks has to be integrated in a management structure closely audited by safety representatives and the safety committee.

  5.2  HSE must prioritise occupational ill-health as would be expected in line with the proportion of harm done by work that is health rather injury based. Inspectors will need to be given more training and safety representative rights to training should be extended to take account of this large area.

  5.3  HSE's research budget needs to be remodelled to carry out occupational health research close to the needs of the major groups of employees affected.. By any measure it is currently out of balance.

  5.4  Vocational rehabilitation cannot be promoted separately from an economic overview that values the skills and loyalty of the existing workforce. In this sense the skill dimension of the labour market interventions recently proposed by the UK Government can help employers to retain staff with potentially work-limiting health problems. Good vocational rehabilitation practice can be profitable or cost-neutral but there can also be significant costs; it should be seen as part of developing a more highly skilled workforce with higher levels of investment.

  5.5  HSE should liaise with NHS health professionals to obtain insight into the health problems of each locality.

6.   Summary

  HSE has failed to promote a vision of healthy work as an attainable goal, instead colluding with a two-speed labour market; high value added and low skilled sectors running in parallel. The best occupational health performance is seen in EU member states that have adopted a high skill/high value added model.

SOHAS

January 2008





 
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