Memorandum submitted by the Public and
Commercial Services Union (PCS)
1. The Public and Commercial Service Union
(PCS) is the largest civil service trade union, with a total membership
of 325,000 working in over 200 civil service departments, non-departmental
public bodies and related areas. We currently represent over 1,000
members who are employed by the Health and Safety Executive.
2. We welcome this timely enquiry and would
be happy to supplement this submission with further written or
3. Our concerns are mainly as a result of
budget cuts and job reductions in the HSE that are putting a considerable
strain on services. These include:
A 25% reduction in staff in
post since 2002.
DWP has agreed to a further
15% cuts in funding from 2008 to 2011.
The proposed removal of 270
jobs from the Rose Court office in London, which will lead to
a major skills drain as the overwhelming majority of staff are
not prepared or able to relocate.
While resources have been considerably
reduced leading to fewer health and safety inspections, workplace
accidents and fatalities have dramatically increased.
4. For ease of reference we have set out
the questions that we have covered in our submission individually
under the issues the Committee are to examine.
5. Is the health and safety regulatory burden
on businesses proportionate?
PCS believes that the legislation itself is
proportionate. The issue is how the Duty Holders implement the
legislation, and ensuring their actions are proportionate. With
a fear from business of litigation or an excessive amount of paperwork,
it is the job of HSE to ensure such concerns, and other health
and safety myths are dispelled. Even if many of the laws requiring
health and safety documentation to be prepared and retained were
repealed, employers would not find any reduction in the need for
these records, as they are also key documents for liability insurers
in the event of damages claims.
6. Are EU directives interpreted and translated
by HSC into UK law appropriately?
We believe that this is an area sadly neglected
by HSE due to under funding. The coming move of HSE's legal and
policy teams will exacerbate the situation with the expected massive
loss of expertise in this area (see 10 below).
7. Are businesses given appropriate guidance
by HSE on their obligations under health and safety law?
Guidance works best when Duty Holders recognise
the issues. HSE's inadequate funding means that there are not
enough communications staff to produce guidance, nor enough operational
staff to help Duty Holders understand their role fully. Guidance
tends to be generic not specific; it is therefore our view that
there is a need for more operational staff to explain the guidance
to duty holders to help tackle incident rates.
8. What impact will the Corporate Manslaughter
and Corporate Homicide Act (2007) have on businesses' approach
to occupational health and safety?
Well informed Duty Holders who want to comply
with health and safety legislation will pay attention to the Act.
However, we are concerned that those who are not aware of the
Act or those who are negligent of their health and safety duties
will push corporate responsibility too far down the management
9. Are director's health and safety duties
appropriately covered by voluntary guidance?
PCS does not believe so. Whilst we understand
the arguments for a voluntary code, we strongly believe that those
most likely to take notice of it are those who are already demonstrating
leadership in corporate health and safety responsibility. We believe
that the voluntary code will only influence those already convinced
of the value of good health and safety to good business management
and outcomes, whilst those who regard the health and safety of
their workers and others to be of no importance will not change
their approach simply in response to this voluntary code.
10. Does the HSE have sufficient resources
to fulfill its objectives as the health and safety regulator and
meet its PSA targets?
We strongly believe that HSE does not have sufficient
resources. HSE has had below inflation rate budgetary settlements
for a number of years. Despite many efficiency reviews to reduce
the cost of overheads and to rationalise workloads, HSE does not
now have sufficient numbers of staff to fully meet all of its
objectives. Since April 2002 HSE's staffing levels have dropped
by a quarter. The current review of HSE's estate includes a decision
to move approximately 270 jobs from London to Bootle. PCS anticipates
that only 10% of staff in post will move with the work, resulting
in a further drain of experienced staff which will severely impact
on HSE's ability to do the job.
11. Does HSE allocate its budget efficiently?
HSE has carried out a number of reviews over
the last 5 years which have removed resources from "back
office" functions including human resources, finance, communications
and estates. HSE has also reviewed how front line activities are
carried out, and in fact is still engaged in a number of projects
to improve efficiency, for example the current Complaints Handling
Review. PCS is concerned that under resourcing means HSE has to
continually review structures and procedures, HSE is not able
to get on with the job at hand.
12. Are there areas of HSE's operations that
require additional investment?
Yes, the review of HSE's estate and the loss
of so many staff posts during the last 12 months mean that HSE's
policy function and front line teams are at risk of being unable
to meet workloads. Expertise within the policy function particularly
is diminishing with less time to develop innovative approaches
to modern workplace health issues, and individual staff workloads
and stress levels are on the increase. The forthcoming regional
estate review also puts HSE's national geographic footprint at
risk, with each region facing office closures. This will undermine
HSE's ability to effectively service more remote and rural areas.
HSE is also likely to fail it's PSA on improving health and reducing
sickness absence levels. With public sector sickness absence rates
at almost double those of the private sector, better funding for
HSE in this area could be offset by savings made by the Government
in any likely fall in public sector days lost to sickness absence.
13. PCS believe that the fact that employers
and others currently have to pay to purchase HSE publications
containing legislation, Approved Codes of Practice and Guidance
is a significant disincentive for employers to become properly
informed of the legislative framework within which they should
be operating. Making these core publications available free of
charge would make a significant difference, we believe, to the
levels of information available to employers and this would especially
benefit small and medium sized enterprises, who by their very
nature will have less finance available to purchase these publications.
14. What impact has the reduction in inspection
rates had on standards of occupational health and safety?
The level of compliance with any legislation
has an inextricable link to the likelihood of that legislation
being enforced against anyone breaching itwhether it is
speed limits on roads or health and safety duties on employers.
After years of under-investment and the resultant cuts in HSE
inspections, even following notifiable fatality and major injury
cases, employers are well aware that they are less and less likely
to see an HSE inspector, with the possible exceptions of high
profile priority areassuch as construction and agriculture.
We believe the overall increase in accidents and work-related
ill health while inspection rates have fallen is certainly not
unrelated. HSE must increase inspection levels to reverse this
trend. We believe that inadequate funding and consequential falling
staff levels are behind this. To have an impact in health and
safety standards HSE needs enough support staff (including policy,
legal, communications and other support functions) to be able
to keep front line staff and activity at a level to impact on
health and safety standards.
15. Does HSE get the balance right between
prevention and enforcement?
PCS believes that HSE are inadequately resourced
in both areasbut we are increasingly concerned at the falling
levels of enforcement activity, due to the message this sends
to unscrupulous employers about their likelihood of being visited
by an HSE inspector. Without more resources HSE will continue
to have to stretch itself too thin.
16. How effectively do HSE and local authorities
interact in their inspection roles?
There are some authorities with a good working
relationship with HSE and some with room for improvement. There
is little consistency due we believe to the varying priorities
and funding issues individual authorities have themselves.
17. Is HSE doing enough to improve health
and safety standards in hazardous occupations?
There are dangers of knee jerk reactions to
statistical downturns in a particular industry. We believe HSE
should be planned and proactive. However, we have concerns that
inadequate funding means HSE is not able to attract and retain
sufficient expertise in hazardous industries.
18. Is HSE doing enough to tackle the rise
in fatalities in the construction industry?
HSE does not have adequate resources to tackle
this increase. This is particularly felt in HSE's London field
office where there is a large construction industry presence and
with such high profile projects such as the Olympics requiring
19. Is HSE doing enough to tackle offshore
health and safety risks in the oil and gas industry and enough
to maintain health and safety standards in the chemicals industry?
We believe there is a difficulty for HSE in
managing the expectations of industry, Government and the public.
When high profile accidents take place, expectations on HSE increase.
Without adequate funding HSE has to juggle competing priorities
and cannot satisfy all of the expectations it faces from different
20. Are migrant workers more at risk of occupational
accidents? Does HSE do enough to protect migrant workers from
health and safety risks?
Migrant workers often are employed in unregulated
or "black economy" occupations. In our view HSE should
do more to reach these vulnerable workers, but again this would
require adequate funding, if other areas of HSE's remit are not
21. What must HSE do to meet its PSA targets
for ill health and days lost per worker? Does HSE do enough to
embed vocational rehabilitation in the workplace?
PCS believes that this work, by its very nature,
will take time to show tangible results. HSE has devoted much
resource to this work but that has had consequences elsewhere
within HSE's remit. Again it comes down to better resourcing.
If Government wants HSE to have a positive impact on the many
wide ranging priorities it must be prepared to pay for it.
22. While our concerns relating to the HSE
are primarily due to budget restraints it is important to put
this in the context of our wider concerns of cuts in central government
funding. While the DWP controls the HSE's budget we do not believe
that the Department should be removing funding from other areas
to release the extra funds for the HSE. We believe that more funding
needs to be allocated to the Department by the Treasury if the
Government is serious about improving the operations of the HSE,
ensuring workplace safety and ultimately reducing the rise of
workplace accidents and fatalities.