Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Hazards Campaign

  The Hazards Campaign is a national network established in 1988, financed by donations from supporting groups and individuals. It draws together hazards centres, Hazards magazine, occupational health advisory services, health and safety groups, safety reps networks and Trades Union Councils' Safety Committees, specific campaigns and individual health and safety activists. Specific campaign groups include the Construction Safety Campaign, Families Against Corporate Killers, Asbestos Victim Support Groups, RSI support groups. The campaign works by: sharing information and skills; campaigning on specific issues; acting as a national voice; issuing press releases; holding conferences; establishing national initiatives, including Workers Memorial Day; lobbying MPs, MEPs and statutory bodies. The Campaign organises the annual Hazards Conference and holds meetings about five times a year which are open to anyone sharing the aims of the campaign.

JUST WHO DOES HSE PROTECT?

  HSE's desperately poor safety enforcement record just took a turn for the worse. Now 9 out of 10 major injuries don't result in an investigation, HSE inspections have hit a new low and the last two years have seen the worst enforcement performance on record. Hazards editor Rory O'Neill says only dangerous employers now have reason to feel safe.

HARDLY SEEN ENFORCING

  Fatalities up 241 worker deaths in 2006-07 compared to 217 in 2005-06, an 11% increase.

  Fatality Rate up 0.8 workers killed per 100,000 in 2006-07 compared to 0.72 per 100,000 in 2005-06, a 10% increase.

  Inspections Down 41,496 HSE inspections in 2006-07 compared to 54,717 in 2005-06, a 24% decrease.

  Inspection Rate Down HSE enforced workplaces in 2006-07 could expect an inspection on average once every 14.5 years, compared to once ever seven years in 2001-02.

  Investigations Down the proportion of major injuries investigated by HSE fell to 11% in 2005-06 from 13% in 2004-05.

  Prosecutions remain Low 1,056 offences prosecuted by HSE in 2005-06 compared to 1,320 in 2004-05, a fall of 20%. Convictions dropped by 10%. Provisional figures for 2006-07 show a minor improvement in prosecutions and convictions, but the last two years remain the worst on record.

  Notices Remain Low 6,593 enforcement notices issued by HSE in 2005-06 compared to 8,471 in 2004-05, a fall of over 22%. Prohibition notices were down by 18% and improvement notices by 24%. The provisional total notices figure rose to 8,071 in 2006-07, but the last two years remain the worst on record.

  www.hse.gov.uk/statistics

  Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors undertook 13,221 fewer inspections last year, a drop of over 24%. Figures obtained by Hazards show HSE's main inspection section, the Field Operations Division (FOD), recorded just 41,496 inspections on its COIN database in 2006-07, down from 54,717 in 2005-06.

  Although a change of recording methods mean the figures are not directly comparable with those for earlier years (Hazards 95), they do show inspections have now fallen dramatically year on year since 2002-03 and have reached a new low. While the number of inspections has crashed over the last five years, the number of workplaces covered by HSE has increased by 20%, meaning workplace are only visited about once every 14.5 years, down from once very seven years in 2001-02.

  A series of Freedom of Information Act requests from Hazards revealed other evidence of a massive deterioration in the safety oversight provided by HSE.

  Its "decision reporting forms" reveal the number of incidents so serious investigation should follow automatically but where no investigation has occurred because of "inadequate resources" has increased from 207 in 2005-05, to 255 in 2005-06 and to 307 in 2006-07 (Hazards 99).

  The proportion of reported major injuries that were investigated by HSE has also dropped, down from 13% in 2004-05 to 11% in 2005-06.

  Enforcement activity has also plummeted. Final figures for 2005-06 published on the HSE website on 1 November 2007 show HSE prosecuted 1,056 offences that year, down from 1,320 in 2004-05, a fall of 20%. Convictions secured dropped to 840, down from 1,025 in 2004-05, a drop of over 18%. The provisional HSE prosecutions figure for 2006-07 is 1,141, a minor improvement, and the provisional convictions figure rose from 840 to 848. However, the two most recent years represent the worst HSE enforcement performance record.

Source: HSE: http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/enforce/index.htm

  The total number of enforcement notices issued by HSE fell to 6,593 in 2005-06 from 8,471 in 2004-05, a fall of over 22%. Prohibition notices issued by HSE fell to 2,668 in 2005-06 compared to 3,285 in 2004-05, down almost 18%. Improvement notices fell to 3,952 from 5,186, down almost 24%. After a major effort to reverse the fall in notices, the number issued by HSE in 2006-07 rose to 8,071, but the last two years remain the worst on record.

Source: HSE: http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/enforce/index.htm

  There are serious concerns the enforcement crisis at HSE will worsen, as further funding cuts bite. HSE has already lost over 250 jobs since April 2006 and faces a further 100 job losses in the second half of the financial year. HSE is grappling with the news that the anticipated 15% budget cut by 2011 to meet Treasury efficiency targets may in fact be larger still.

  Chancellor Alistair Darling's announcement that HSE's parent department DWP would take a 5.6% hit year on year from 2008-10 was 12% more than the 5% cut it had been led to believe was on the cards.

  Since 2002, HSE has lost over 1,000 posts as a result of government spending cuts; HSE union Prospect says the organisation now employs fewer than 3,250 staff, down from over 4,000 when Labour took office.

  According to a September 2007 TUC briefing, workplace safety should be a high law enforcement priority, noting "18,000 violent crimes a year require hospital treatment whereas there are 39,000 workplace major injuries—things like amputations, fractures to limbs, serious burns, or injuries requiring at least 24 hours in hospital."

  But as HSE struggled this year to cope with a crippling funding crisis it was pushed into areas of work with no relevance to workers' health—including taking the lead on and footing the £100,000 bill for the investigation into this summer's Foot and Mouth outbreak linked to the Pirbright laboratory near Guildford. Foot and Mouth is a non-fatal disease of animals presenting no risk at all to humans.

  According to Mike Macdonald, negotiations officer with HSE inspectors' union Prospect, the cash-strapped watchdog cannot meet its public expectations to advise, inspect and enforce workplace health and safety. Better funding for the HSE would be good for workers concerned about their safety, employers seeking advice and the taxpayer who meets the costs of higher benefit and insurance because of rising accident rates.

  The campaign group Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK) feel that the massive, unacceptable decline in already inadequate policing of health and safety means the workplace is an enforcement-free zone and deaths and injuries will continue to rise.. Employers cannot be trusted to protect health and safety without a credible threat that they will be caught and punished, preferably before someone is hurt or killed. FACK is in correspondence with the Minister, Peter Hain, to make clear that families of those killed by work will not tolerate this failure of law enforcement and FACK expects urgent action to police the workplace.

WORKPLACE HEALTH PROJECT A COSTLY FLOP

  A multi-million pound government funded project designed to provide advice on workplace health issues to small and medium-sized firms is failing dramatically in achieving this goal, with almost nine out of 10 calls received not workplace health-related.

  Workplace Health Connect, launched with a budget approaching £20 million in February 2006 as a semi-detached offshoot of the Health and Safety Executive, quickly attracted criticism. An evaluation four months into the project found only 7% of calls were on workplace health issues, the remainder on safety issues already catered for by HSE awareness advisers and the HSE Infoline.

  Now an Institution for Employment Studies evaluation of WHC's first 16 months in operation has found "the data demonstrates that the adviceline is primarily of interest to employers as a source of advice about safety related matters, although about 11% of callers did ring with a specific health enquiry." Advisers could only introduce health issues with callers requesting information on other issues in just over 15% of cases.

  The report notes "overall call levels to the adviceline remain well below the initial targets." Just over 9,000 calls were received in the evaluation period, from February 2006 to May 2007, or about 20 calls a day. This suggests just a couple of calls each day were on a workplace health issues, WHC's key purpose.

  The two-person health and safety campaigning magazine Hazards, commented that they answer more health-based queries before breakfast, and we have no budget for advice work. Compared to primary care based occupational health projects and workers' health and safety advice centres like Greater Manchester Hazards Centre, Workplace Health Connect is a multi-million pound disaster and a costly flop. This money could be better targeted and much better used.

References

HSC/E stats news release, 1 November 2007 http://www.hse.gov.uk/press/2007/c07020.htm

HSC news release, 1 November 2007,: http://www.hse.gov.uk/press/2007/c07019.htm

statistics 2005-06 webpage http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/enforce/index.htmand statistics webpages http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/index.htm

Self-reported work related illness and workplace injuries in 2006-07: top-level tables.

Workplace Health Connect: July Progress report, HSE, published online 30 October 2007, Workplace Health Connect http://www.workplacehealthconnect.co.uk/

Hazards Campaign

November 2007





 
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