Memorandum submitted by Unite the Union
Unite the Union was formed by the merger of
the Transport and General Workers Union and Amicus in May 2007.
It is the UK's largest general union, bringing together some 1.8
million members working in all parts of the economy.
Unite welcomes the opportunity to make a written
submission to the inquiry of the Select Committee. Our submission
will focus on the legislative framework, HSE resources, regulatory
activity, safety representatives' rights, some hazardous occupations
and vulnerable workers.
We would like to place on record that Unite
is very supportive of the work that the HSE, and its staff do.
We believe strongly in principles underpinning their work, in
particular tripartite working and worker involvement.
We also request the opportunity to give oral
evidence to the Committee hearing.
1. We support the work of the HSE.
2. We believe the HSE is severely under-resourced
in all respects.
3. We urge a more prescriptive approach
to standards and regulations.
4. We regard consultation and engagement
of workers as fundamental to the health and safety system.
5. We strongly support the tripartite system.
6. We have strong concerns about the health
and safety of vulnerable workersparticularly migrant workersand
those working in dangerous industries such as agriculture and
7. We urge the HSE to address the under-reporting
of health and safety problems faced by vulnerable workers, particularly
the self-employed and migrant workers who have no workplace structures
to ensure such reporting is carried out with efficacy.
8. We believe that the HSE should assume
full responsibility for regulating occupational road risk.
9. We believe that extending safety representatives'
rights and protection is crucial to raising workplace standards.
1. The legislative framework
1.1 Overall, Unite believes that the Health
and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSWA) continues to form a good
basis for our health and safety legislation. We do, however, wish
to make a point about the more recent focus on risk assessment.
Though risk assessment is very important, and clearly a legal
requirement, it is our experience that many employers simply do
not understand the process and what is required.
1.2 So we urge a much more prescriptive
approach to standards setting and an interventionist stance taken
to the application of such standards. Regulations continue to
complement and clarify HSWA by laying down specific requirements,
for example on safety representatives' rights and functions or
on provision of welfare facilities.
1.3 We are strongly opposed to recent moves
towards a voluntary approach. A good example of this is the Stress
Management Standards, where we feel specific regulations should
be introduced. We reject the so called "light touch"
to regulation and the concept that regulations are a "burden
on business". These ideas are simply not sustainable as is
demonstrated by the rising tide of occupational ill-health and
the recent increased rate of fatalities at work.
1.4 We regard the core principle embedded
in the HSWA, consultation with workers through their unions, as
absolutely central to the health and safety framework.
1.5 In relation to changes to the framework,
we broadly welcome the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide
Act 2007, but regret that provision for individual duties of senior
managers and others such as company directors was ruled out by
the Government. We strongly believe that, were new legal duties
to be introduced, the boardroom culture in relation to health
and safety management would change overnight
2. Health & Safety Executive and Health
& Safety Commission
2.1 Unite broadly supports the proposed
merger between the Commission and Executive so long as the tripartite
structure is maintained and reinforced.
2.2 However, we are also extremely concerned
that the HSC/E are so underfunded that they are barely able to
carry out basic enforcement activity. A merger must not be used
to cut costs, staffing and resources further but must instead
be seized as an opportunity to build the best possible mechanism
for safeguarding worker and public safety.
3.1 We wish to emphasise our very strong
concern at the lack of resources for HSE. The demands on HSE increased
in many respects in recent years brought on in particular by increasing
demand for action on occupational health; fresh challenges in
key sectors such as construction (the house building boom, crane
collapses); the chemical industry (Buncefield); in agriculture
(Foot and Mouth and avian influenza); and as a result of changes
in the nature of the workforce (migrant workers, increasing use
of agency workers, contractors and those with self-employed status).
3.2 Unite represents workers in the agriculture
and forestry sector. Taking this sector as an example, we note
that while much effort has recently been put by the HSE in reaching
self-employed workers, who form a significant group in this industry,
it is now estimated that there are at least 250,000 migrant workers
working in agriculture, which is a significant development and
presents new challenges in ensuring that H&S law is both communicated
3.3 The HSE needs funds to communicate directly
with all workers, particularly vulnerable workers, as well as
a strategy for working with unions to reach them. This requires
full resourcing in order that the HSE can anticipate and guard
against future problems born out of the changing labour market,
not just respond to present circumstances.
3.4 Agriculture is top of the industrial
league table for deaths and major injuries (including children)
as well as occupational illness (often caused by farm chemicals
and exposure to biological hazards) despite massive under reporting
of incidents. As mentioned above, this industry has also seen
a huge expansion of employment of migrant workers and in the use
of gangmasters. Protecting the health and safety and general workplace
conditions of these vulnerable workers is our priority, and, we
submit, a government priority.
3.5 The Agricultural Industry Advisory Committee
of the HSE has a good 10 point programme including proactive inspections
and Safety and Health Awareness Days (SHADS) and we urge that
this is carried forward to prevent more deaths and ill-health.
3.6 We are therefore particularly concerned
that in recent years the agricultural sector specialist HSE inspectorate
has been disbanded as part of general cuts in services. This also
brought to a halt pro-active inspections in one our most dangerous
3.7 In addition, we understand that the
Department for Work and Pensions is proposing that the HSE should
receive a 5% real terms cut in its budget each year from 2008-09
to 2010-11. This is in addition to significant staffing reductions
in recent years. It is not surprising that the highest number
of workplace fatalities in five years was recorded last year.
3.8 We have written expressing strong concern
about these cuts in general to the Secretary of State, Peter Hain,
and have requested a meeting with him (a copy of this letter from
Unite Joint General Secretaries dated 30 October 2007 is attached
at Appendix 1).
4.1 We have already drawn attention to the
fact that resources for regulatory activity including enforcement
have been cut, the result being a fall in investigations, inspections,
notices and prosecutions. We believe that robust enforcement actionincluding
prosecutionsis absolutely essential to improve health and
safety culture at work and prevent fatalities, accidents and ill-health
and we ask the Committee to consider this.
4.2 Occupational Road Risk. Unite represents
a large number of professional drivers in passenger transport
and road haulage. Unite is represented on the RoSPA national H&S
committee and has worked with RoSPA to support their concept of
including managing road risk in mainstream H&S management.
4.3 A significant number of deaths on the
road every year involve people driving at work. We believe that
the long hours culture is linked to the number of accidents on
the roads. We have become aware in our discussions with HSE that
there is confusion relating to the enforcement of work-related
safety on the highway. The police do of course investigate road
accidents, but many of these incidents may be attributable to
poor health and safety practice on the part of the employer.
4.4 According to the HSE, in 2005-06 217
workers were fatally injuredthis corresponds to a rate
of fatal injury rate of 0.72 per 100,000. In 2005, 109 goods vehicle
drivers were killed on the roadsthis includes both drivers
of large goods vehicles and light goods vehicles. This corresponds
to a rate of fatal injury of 15.2 per 100,000 workers.
4.5 But these figures are excluded from
the HSE figures. We estimate that only 10% of fatalities for goods
vehicle drivers are included in the HSE figures. If the accident
occurs on the road it is treated as a road traffic statistics,
and not a work related statistic.
4.6 This problem has been recognised both
by the HSE and the police and changes to the reporting of road
transport accidents (RTA) have been implemented in an attempt
to capture this information. However, we believe that the only
way to ensure the proper reporting of work related RTA is to bring
them under the provisions of the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases
and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR).
4.6 Our professional driver members are
also very concerned about the lack of rest and welfare facilities.
There is currently no requirement for motorway service areas (MSA)
operators or other providers to provide dedicated accommodation,
eating facilities, shower and toilet facilities for professional
lorry and coach drivers. Currently, rather than seeing an expansion
of the services for professional drivers, we are seeing roadside
facilities closing, resulting in a further reduction in an already
poor provision of these facilities.
4.10 With regard to the both enforcement
of drivers' hours regulations and the Working Time Regulations
and the safety standards of commercial vehicles we believe that
insufficient resources are allocated to enforce the legislation.
4.11 One major problem is that we have no
real estimate of the size of the problem. As far as we are aware
there has never been a proper national survey to identify the
amount of drivers' hours regulations breaches, or to identify
what proportion of the national fleet is overloaded or does not
meet the required safety standards.
4.12 We include here some statistics to
illustrate what is a very serious health and safety problem which
affects not only worker but public safety. Results of VOSA's vehicle
checks on the 23 October 2006 (the latest information we could
445 vehicles were checked for roadworthinesss (251 UK-registered
vehicles and 194 foreign vehicles). Of the 251 UK vehicles checked,
74 prohibitions were issued with brakes and tyres being the most
common defects. Of the 194 foreign vehicles checked, 33 prohibitions
4.13 With regard to traffic offences, 223
vehicles were checked (130 UK-registered vehicles and 93 foreign).
Of the 281 UK vehicles checked, 35 prohibitions and 25 verbal
warnings were issued for drivers' hours offences.
Fifteen reports for further investigation were
issued for drivers' records/hours, and operators' and drivers'
Of the 93 foreign vehicles checked, 19 prohibitions
and 60 verbal warnings were issued.
4.14 Unite is also increasingly concerned
about the safety and stability of containers as there are an increasing
number of reports of containers overturning. We are calling for
a much more rigorous inspection and regulatory framework for containers.
4.14 We ask the Committee to address this
as a matter of urgency. We strongly believe that significant resources
should be allocated to enforcement and we recommend suggest that
HSE should be given the resources to play a much larger role in
regulating and enforcing occupational road risk issues. The lack
of resources means that both employers and professional drivers
will continue to break the law, because they know that there is
little or no chance of the being pulled up and their lorry condition
and driving hours checked.
4.15 Penalties: Unite also wants
to see a much more robust approach to penalties. Most offences
are only punishable by a fine and often fines are used even when
the offence has resulted in a death at work and where there is
the possibility of imprisonment. Last year the average fine was
£15,370, but if the small number of convictions of over £100,000
are removed the average is a modest £8,723 for what may have
resulted in loss of life or serious injury. The Government committed
itself in 2002 to increase penalties for health and safety offences
but no steps have yet been taken.
4.16 Directors' duties: As previously
mentioned, we believe that there should be legal duty on directors
to ensure that their organisation does not put the health and
safety of their workforce at risk. Individual employees, managers
and suppliers have duties; it seems illogical and immoral then
that an important group such as directors does not, particularly
in view of directors' stringent legal requirements with regard
to upholding financial law. Unite has been campaigning on this
issue for many years and we enclose (Appendix 2) our report A
hard day's work never killed anyone (2003) and the draft bills;
and subsequent briefings on Directors' Duties.
4.17 We also urge that the range of penalties
is expanded including corporate probation, and "naming and
shaming" orders available, as well as much more use of disqualification
for directors for health and safety offences.
4.18 Effective enforcement is not simply
a matter of adequate agency budgets, however. The `light touch'
approach to inspections and compliance that has prevailed in recent
years means that those employers who are flouting the law do so
safe in the knowledge that they will rarely, if at all, face discovery,
let alone sanction, for any breaches. In this regard, we are not
asking Government to pass more law; we are merely asking that
they judiciously and thoroughly apply the laws that exist already.
Rigorous publication of how breaches in the law were dealt with,
and a regime that awarded only the best practitioners with public
contracts for instance, would also, we believe, go some way towards
ensuring a progressive health and safety culture.
5. Working together
5.1 The tripartite approach (employers,
trade unions and Government working together) is fundamental to
the health and safety system in the UK. Research has shown that
in workplaces where there is consultation and trade union recognition,
the level of work-related injuries is half that of workplaces
with no union recognition and consultation. Unite is committed
to working in partnership and has put extensive resources and
effort into organising formal partnerships with industry bodies,
for example the electrical and plumbing JIB, and the NJC in construction
engineering. This has resulted in a more pragmatic approach, formulating
H&S strategies together and improving health benefits.
5.2 Unite strongly supports changes to the
Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977
to make them more effective, and build on the experience of the
last 30 years.
5.3 This includes giving safety representatives
the right to inspect all premises where they have members, and
those of contractors. Also needed are specific duties on employers
to respond to issues raised by safety representatives to consult
safety representatives on risk assessments.
5.4 Safety representatives need stronger
employment protection. At present unfair dismissal claims involving
a safety representative can result in compensation, but not in
reinstatement. We believe that health and safety law should be
strengthened to give further protection to safety representatives.
5.5 We want to highlight the success of
Workers' Safety Advisor pilot scheme and the Workers Safety Advisor
Challenge Fund project. Unite successfully participated the pilot
project (including the hospitality, printing and construction
sectors. We followed this up in the Challenge Fund with a very
successful joint project with the Federation of Master Builders
in which trade union appointed Workers Safety Advisors worked
alongside small construction businesses to raise health and safety
awareness and practice. We believe that initiatives such as the
Workers Challenge Fund should be repeated and built upon as this
particularly benefited workers in small enterprises in high risk
sectors such as construction. But as yet we have not seen a full
evaluation report of the third year of the project.
5.6 Unite is strongly committed to high
quality education and training for safety representatives and
the union devotes considerable resources to this. Thousands of
our members pass through safety representative training every
year. The HSE's support for this work is crucial, including making
available speakers and resources for these programmes.
5.7 Unite has carried out successful work
in pioneering roving safety representatives in the agriculture
sector and in the financial sector, and we urge the establishment
of statutory roving safety representative schemes.
5.8 Furthermore, we strongly support a new
statutory right for safety representatives to serve provisional
improvement notices (PINS) at work which is a statutory right
in parts of Australia. The effectiveness of PINS was demonstrated
recently when a government department in the state of Victoria
ignored a PIN served by a safety representative and was then successfully
5.8 An HSC consultation on new rights for
safety representatives took place in 2006. This resulted in considerable
input from our members, and overwhelming support for changes to
the regulations, but regrettably in spite of this the HSC has
not revised the regulations, and we ask the Committee to consider
how progress can be made on this.
5.9 Unite actively participates on behalf
of the TUC in tripartite working through membership of various
HSC Industry Advisory Committees and other HSE tripartite bodies.
We regard this system as an extremely effective way of raising
standards. It is therefore regrettable that recently HSE commitment
to these bodies has been reduced, in some cases leading to watering
down their work or winding them down.
5.10 In one particular instance, Unite initiated
tripartite working with the HSE and employers on beer delivery.
The union represents about 7,000 beer delivery workers and our
members are deeply concerned by the incidence of musculoskeletal
disorders caused by work activities and the fact that many members
have to retire early from their job because of this. We all (HSE,
Union and employers) put in a huge amount of work on new draft
guidance on beer delivery but the work has been discontinued at
present largely because of resource issues for the HSE. This is
a huge disappointment and we ask the Committee to consider this.
We are also very concerned about the inability of the employers
and the HSE to respond to the Union's requests for precise data
on accident levels in the industry.
5.11 Unite has been involved in extensive
research with the HSE to identify the effectiveness of trade union
appointed safety reps in communicating information, and implementing
improvements, concerning musculoskeletal risks. This involved
Unite safety reps on H&S education courses receiving specific
training and information on assessing such risks and taking them
back to their workplaces. The outcome was a very clear indication
of the value of TU safety reps as agents for change in the workplace,
and as effective influencers in improving employers' approaches
to health and safety.
6. Research and publications
6.1 The HSE publishes a wide range of practical
and authoritative health and safety materials of a very high standard.
They are well used by our members who welcome both their content
and the fact that they are produced by an independent body. The
research work carried out by the Health and Safety Laboratory
(HSL) is also crucial to maintaining these standards and we urge
that HSL is properly funded to enable this to continue.
6.2 We also urge that all the HSE's guidance
is published free of charge. At some stage the HSE agreed to do
this by putting it on the website. We hope that funding restraint
will not put this in jeopardy and we ask the Committee to consider
this. Free access to these very important materials is crucial
to workers who, we assure you, will make very good use of them.
7. Vulnerable workers and dangerous industries
7.1 As indicated above, hundreds of thousands
of migrant workers are now working the UK economy and they require
health and safety protection. The HSE's resources are required
to ensure these workers and their employers are helped to understand
and implement good health and safety practice. We have come across
many situations where migrant workers' health and safety is being
disregarded and believe also that there is chronic under-reporting
of injuries in this group of workers, as well as more generally.
HSE resources are urgently required to address this.
7.2 We have already mentioned agriculture.
Of great concern is the construction industry with its culture
of bogus self-employment, appalling accident record and lack of
basic skills training and health and safety training. We are working
very hard with the industry to try to address these issues but
we also in the midst of a building boom and a number of major
projects including the Olympic sites, and we must stress the crucial
role of HSE's regulatory and enforcement activity in this sector.
7.3 The establishment of the Gangmasters
Licensing Authority in 2004 is helping to safeguard employment
standards in one sector, the food and agriculture sector. The
GLA views H&S breaches seriously when awarding the licences
that gangmasters need to operate in this sector, working with
the HSE/C to ensure abuses are followed up. However, this agency
faces considerable demands on its very small resources. It is
also prevented from acting on any breaches committed by gangmasters
operating outside of this sector. Unite firmly believes that the
GLA's remit should be expanded across the economy so that the
most can be made of this joined-up approach to enforcement.
7.4 Please also see our comments under the
Sections headed Enforcement and Resources.
Unite the Union
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