Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by EEF—the Manufacturers Organisation

ABOUT EEF

  EEF is the representative voice of manufacturing, engineering and technology-based businesses with a membership of 6,000 companies employing around 800,000 people. Comprising 11 regional EEF Associations, the Engineering Construction Industries Association (ECIA) and UK Steel, EEF is one of the leading providers of business services in employment relations and employment law, health, safety and environment, manufacturing performance, education, training and skills.

 SUMMARY

    —    The system for the regulation of health and safety in Britain is generally effective, but to remain this way it must be the subject of continuous review and targeted improvement.

    —    The framework of health and safety legislation is generally strong, proportionate, effective and well understood by stakeholders.

    —    EEF has concerns about the evidential basis for some new European Directives and the potential impact that they could have on British industry.

    —    EEF supports the principle of a merged Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Health and Safety Commission (HSC) but would prefer to see the management structure based around the Cadbury Principles, including both executives an non-executives.

    —    Inconsistency in the regulatory approach taken by HSE and local authorities is a key weakness of the current system.

    —  The proposal for merging HSE and HSC and the Draft Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill both miss opportunities to address this situation.

    —  EEF would like to see HSE responsible for setting overall standards and approaches for health and safety regulation in Britain.

    —    EEF feels that voluntary guidance is the best way to promote effective high level leadership in health and safety management.

    —    EEF welcomes the new Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act, and hopes that it will prove effective in addressing the shortcomings of the previous legislation.

    —    HSE do have a role to play as part of a streamlined and effective local authority planning process.

    —    The balance of interventions employed by HSE is generally appropriate but must remain risk based and be reviewed on a regular basis. New strategies could be employed to free up resources.

    —    Occupational health is an area of rising concern. HSE must target resources to greatest effect and avoid being drawn into non-work related issues.

DETAILED EVIDENCE ON KEY POINTS OF INQUIRY

INTRODUCTION

  1.  Britain leads Europe in the field of health and safety at work. In 2006 the UK's statistics for work related accidents and fatalities were lower than those in many other member states. However, a significant number of people are still injured, become ill, or lose their lives, at work each year, so there is still scope for further improvement.

THE LEGISLATIVE AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORK

Legislation

  2.  The legislative framework for health and safety in Britain is robust and well established. The goal setting approach of the Health and Safety at Work Act and other subordinate legislation has helped to ensure continued relevance of application. This approach is well understood by stakeholders, and is effectively supported through the publication of guidance, codes of practice and case study examples by HSE and other agencies.

  3.  Historically European Directives have been incorporated effectively into this framework. We were pleased that, in their judgement last year regarding infraction proceedings brought against Britain by the European Commission (EC), the European Court of Justice endorsed the use of qualified duties for implementation of health and safety directives in Britain. Qualified duties (eg "so far as is reasonably practicable") are a key component of British health and safety legislation. It is therefore important that they can be applied to the implementation of legislation originating in Europe, in order to ensure continuity of approach. We do however have concerns about a suite of new European legislation known as the Physical Agents Directives, and in particular the Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) Directive.

  4.  Since 2002, EEF has been highlighting to HSE and the EC key concerns about the EMF Directive. Latterly HSE have accepted that there is no evidence to suggest that exposure to EMF in standard industrial settings causes harm, and that the directive would therefore result in significant costs to business whilst delivering no benefits to the health and wellbeing of workers. The EC have recently proposed a delay to the directive for four years to allow quantification of these issues. EEF urges the Government and HSE to fund urgent research in this area in order to inform an amending directive to be drawn up by the EC.

Structure for regulation of health and safety

  5.  HSC and HSE are well regarded by the majority of stakeholders. Employers appreciate the professionalism shown by staff and actively seek their advice. Proactive engagement of this sort helps to promote effective good practice in health and safety management in a supportive way. Of course it is also essential to ensure that sanctions are available and applied effectively in appropriate circumstances. In general terms we feel that HSE's balance of interventions is about right, although this is not always the case in relation to health and safety enforcement by local authorities.

  6.  Enforcement of health and safety is a complex issue involving over 400 different agencies, which creates a confusing landscape for businesses. Some multi-site companies are required to liaise on a daily basis with a huge number of different regulators, experiencing significant inconsistency, in just this one key field. We believe that this is the most significant weakness of the current enforcement structure, and we are concerned that two pending pieces of regulation miss key opportunities to address this issue. The first of these is the proposed merger between HSE and HSC, and the second is the Draft Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill.

  7.  The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has recently consulted on proposals for a merger of HSE and HSC. HSE is a large and complex operational body and it is therefore essential that the people who are responsible for the stewardship of the organisation are in a position not only to discuss issues of policy, but also to take collective responsibility for oversight of the key functions of the organisation. EEF believes that this objective would be best fulfilled by a unitary board, established in line with the Cadbury Principles, including a mixture of executive and non-executive directors. We do not believe that the entirely nonexecutive body proposed in the recent consultation exercises could meet this objective. The stated intention of the merger is to create a single regulatory authority. However, we have concerns that this will not be achieved by the proposed model. Low risk premises will still be regulated by one of 400 different local authorities. EEF would like to see a merged HSE as the standard setting body for health and safety, establishing the framework against which local authorities would regulate. This would implement a similar model to that adopted by National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE).

  8.  Currently, "lead", or "home" authority systems are the only mechanism to promote consistency in health and safety regulation for multi-site businesses. The effectiveness of these schemes is highly variable, and employers who have entered into these arrangements would be keen to see improvements. The proposals for the role of the Local Better Regulation Office (LBRO), and a statutory primary authority structure, as set out in the draft Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill, may go some way towards achieving an improvement. It will however, be essential to ensure that the LBRO does not simply become yet another voice in an already complex regulatory structure. It is unfortunate that national regulators such as HSE will be outside the scope of this legislation, and will not therefore be party to the new primary authority system. We believe that this represents another missed opportunity to address inconsistencies in regulatory practice.

Charging

  9.  Recently HSE have informed businesses classified as top tier sites under the Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Regulations that charges for inspection are to increase by 31%. This is justified as representing recovery of the full economic cost of delivering this service. However, this was previously the justification for the existing charging regime. There has so far been insufficient detail provided to allow a transparent analysis of HSE's argument. Currently only regulatory activity linked to the specified hazardous process is covered by charges, but the recent notification sets out HSE's aspiration for all contact with COMAH sites to be chargeable. This means that general HSE initiatives and spurious complaints could result in significant, and unpredictable, additional costs for business. This is a significant change in policy and EEF feels that it should be subject to scrutiny against the principles of better regulation, and that it should also be the subject of proper regulatory impact assessment and public consultation. There is precedent for this, as the Environment Agency consult annually on their framework of charges to business.

Directors' Duties

  10.  There is no doubt that effective and proactive high level leadership is an essential component of effective health and safety management. EEF believes that this principle is now widely understood. Historically however, there has been no clear framework for senior managers to use in structuring their own involvement to greatest effect, and consequently there has been little consistency in approach and no clear benchmark for performance.

  11.  We welcome the recent guidance document issued by HSC and the Institute of Directors (IoD), and feel that it will go a long way towards addressing this issue. We feel that voluntary guidance is the most effective tool to use at the present time, as it will serve to encourage good practice.

  12.  We would be reluctant to see additional legislation in this area. It is important to remember that you can only legislate for basic standards, whereas you can guide and encourage towards continuous improvement and adoption of best practice.

  13.  We believe that the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Companies Act already contain adequate legal provision in this area. We are however aware that there is a strong lobby for additional legislation. We understand that the HSC have deferred any decision on additional legislation in order to allow investigation of the effectiveness of the new guidance. We are concerned that no parameters appear to have been set for this assessment, and that no baseline data is available. We are therefore concerned that any future decision on additional legislation will be based on anecdotal information rather than sound data, and would thus be contrary the principles of better regulation.

Corporate Manslaughter

  14.  EEF welcomes the new Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act. We believe that it is right and proper to establish a framework that will hold failing duty holders to account when a fatality results from corporate negligence. We feel that the new legislation is fair and well balanced, and we welcome the publication of guidance to aid interpretation of the legislation.

  15.  We support the Government's view that inclusion of individual or secondary liability would not have increased the effectiveness of the legislation. Our experience suggests that the new act is motivating senior managers to review the approach taken to health and safety management in their organisation, and to take a more active role in further development of health and safety management systems. Had the legislation featured individual or secondary liability for directors, we feel that many would have been deterred from involvement in health and safety management fearing guilt by association, therefore compromising other initiatives aiming to improve and develop leadership in health and safety management.

Use of Scientific and Research Data

  16.  HSE's approach to interpretation and application of science and research needs to become more robust. There is an increasing need for empirical data to inform policy decisions, but there is also a need to evaluate and interpret such data in a wider context, before applying it in a policy situation. Subjective surveys should not be viewed in isolation as a reliable indicator or information source.

  17.  HSE need to challenge data more robustly, to review it in the context of all the information available and to take a pragmatic approach to building policy based on scientific and research data. This means taking into account the practical implications of adopting a particular course of action. Confusion relating to the potential impact of the Electromagnetic Fields Directive on industry and healthcare in Britain illustrates the need for improvement in this area.

Better Regulation and Simplification

  18.  EEF believes that HSE is currently working effectively in this area. Employers are starting to see the benefits of initiatives such as the example risk assessments and improved guidance on the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations. However, the true test will be whether front line inspectors refer to these initiatives in their interaction with employers.

RESOURCES, INSPECTION AND ENFORCEMENT

  19.  The number of front line inspectors is declining and there is a growing population of businesses that are never visited by a health and safety inspector. This is a concern, particularly as those organisations most in need of advice or enforcement are not necessarily those which feature on the inspection schedules. It is essential that HSE maintain a risk based approach to inspection and enforcement, targeting their resources to greatest benefit. We would be keen to see more effective use of systems which minimise HSE's interaction with organisations that manage health and safety effectively, thus freeing up resource to assist poorer performers. The current Large Organisations Pilot Project has largely failed to deliver on many of the expectations of key stakeholders, as they have seen little change in engagement by HSE, but businesses still are keen to engage with HSE to develop this idea further. A number of large high performing organisations are keen to contribute to the programme and would be pleased to adopt a mentoring role and assist health and safety improvement in other businesses. This could potentially free up inspector resource still further, but has not been considered as part of the current project.

  20.  There is a growing use, by regulators, of topic based inspection, whereby visits to companies are focused on a single theme, selected by the regulator. This can create `tunnel vision' among inspectors, who are reluctant to engage in discussion of "off topic" issues during visits. Businesses value the opinions and advice of regulators, particularly HSE inspectors, and want to get best value from this during a visit, in order to drive good practice across a wide range of issues. In addition, limiting the scope of issues reviewed by inspectors actually reduces opportunities for them to develop their own experience.

  21.  There is widespread confusion over the role of Workplace Contact Officers (WCOs). These staff have a role similar to that of police community support officers. They do not carry warrant cards and are charged with outreach work, but businesses do not understand the difference between these individuals and full inspectors. Employers are looking to every member of an enforcing authority to provide definitive advice and guidance, and are frustrated when this is not forthcoming due to the limited remit and competence of WCOs.

OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH

  22.  HSE must ensure that it concentrates resource in areas where it can deliver the greatest benefit. Work related health issues are entirely in scope, and businesses welcome HSEs advice and guidance in this area. However, issues of general wellbeing, absence management and rehabilitation are generally outside of this remit, and HSE should not expend resource in these areas, particularly as they are the subject of proactive initiatives from other government agencies.

  23.  As safety issues are increasingly well managed, it is inevitable that situations involving work related illness will gain a higher profile. Health situations are often complex and have long latency periods, complicating investigation and management. HSE needs to develop its resource in this area. Specialist occupational health practitioners provide a vital source of information for front line inspectors, as well as carrying out inspections in their own right. EEF is concerned over the depletion of the Employment Medical Advisory Service (EMAS) within HSE. We are not looking for EMAS to support businesses directly, but to provide a specialist resource within HSE to underpin policy and regulation in the area of occupational health on an ongoing basis.

CONCLUSION

  24.  HSE is generally an effective regulator, however it is essential that it is able to adapt in order to continue to regulate in a consistent, transparent, proportionate and relevant manner going forwards. It must now make best use of the available options in order to establish a strong regulatory framework for the future.

EEF

January 2008





 
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