Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence

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 oral evidence.

  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 Even if many of the laws requiring health and safety documentation to be prepared and retained were repealed, employers would not find any reduction in the need for these records, as they are also key documents for liability insurers in the event of damages claims.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 chain.

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 it—whether 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 areas—such 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 areas—but 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 extra attention.

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 groups.


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 to suffer.


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.


January 2007

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 21 April 2008