Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Thompsons Solicitors


1.   Funding of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)

  The HSE is at a crossroads. It does an excellent job where it can but despite all Government evidence showing that poor health and safety costs the UK economy £billions every year, grossly inadequately funding means the HSE is unable to fulfil its primary role of enforcement/accident prevention. Its investigation of reported major injuries is at very low levels.

  There are simply not enough inspectors with the result that there are not enough visits to workplaces meaning that employers can pay lip service to health and safety (H&S), safe in the knowledge that the chance of a visit is statistically remote. Recent job losses and expenditure cutbacks (which it is reported is in part a management decision to build up reserves and may lead to an underspend of £millions this year) will significantly reduce yet further the capacity of the HSE to be, in practice, anything other than reactive.

    —    What is the correlation between proactive workplace inspection and accident reduction in a workplace?

    —    What is the average cost of workplace inspection and what is the average cost to society of a workplace injury?

    —    Will there be any underspend at the HSE this year?

2.   The Division of Safety Enforcement

  The division of safety enforcement between the HSE and local authorities is an anomaly.

  Section 18 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires local authorities to make "adequate arrangements" for enforcement. However, separate funding by each local authority results in widespread variation in performance and enforcement.

    —    Does the HSE see enforcement as key?

    —    If it does is it satisfied that their work is enhanced by local authority involvement in enforcement or are resources wasted by inconsistent enforcement levels?

3.   Construction Deaths

  There has been a rise in fatalities in the construction industry. For some years safety statistics have flat-lined. The system of employment has become increasingly fragmented with the management of projects increasingly remote from the men and women (often employed by sub contractors and sub sub contractors) working on the ground. Large employers blame small builders but all in the industry must face up to their responsibilities.

    —    Is the HSE satisfied at the level of construction site injuries?

    —    Is the HSE concerned that the Construction Strategic Forum is effectively moribund due to a lack of employer engagement?

    —    Does the HSE see a significant role for roving safety reps?

4.   Boardroom engagement with H&S

  The Corporate Manslaughter Corporate Homicide Act partly rectifies the anomaly of corporate immunity from prosecution but for Directors themselves there exists only a voluntary code from the Institute of Directors "reminding them" that it is their responsibility to "lead" on H&S.

    —    Does the HSE see any difference between the importance of say, Human Resources (which almost always has board level allocated responsibility) and H&S? Would the HSE be assisted and be able to deliver better value if the guidance given by the HSE to boards of directors was legally enforceable?

Thompsons Solicitors

November 2007

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