Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence


Supplementary memorandum submitted by the 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.

SUMMARY

  The Hazards Campaign believes

    —    The work of the HSE/C is currently unacceptably reduced by a lack of funding, and must therefore be in jeopardy by the proposed 15-16% cuts over the next 3 years;

    —    Levels of inspection and enforcement action, from serving of enforcement notices to prosecutions, have fallen in recent years and are unacceptable and far too low to act as effective deterrent;

    —    The level of injuries meeting the criteria for investigation but not being investigated due to lack of resources is rising unacceptably;

    —    Worker involvement and safety rep consultation should be at the heart of HSE work and enforcement of employers duties towards them should be enforced;

    —    Treating employers/duty holders and workers as equal stakeholders is unjust and inequitable;

    —    The preventative role of HSE in both safety and occupational health should be paramount;

    —    The necessity of a strong framework of health and safety regulation backed up with credible threat of enforcement should lie at the heart of HSE work as essential to public health, and the HSE should not be involved in misrepresenting H&S law as a burden on business, in promoting deregulation, or promoting advice, encouragement and voluntarism, over straight forward law enforcement;

    —    The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Law fails to hold individual directors and decision maker accountable and is unlikely to act as a significant deterrent, or address the inequity between large and small employing organisations;

    —    The cost to the economy of health and safety failure is £20-£30 billion—a well resourced HSE is an investment in public health delivering significant financial benefits as well as being morally justified; and

    —    Without more resources and political will, the HSE has no chance of meeting the very modest Revitalising H&S targets set in 2000.

1.  LEGISLATION AND ENFORCEMENT

  1.1  Legislation, however good, is only effective if it is enforced consistently and fairly across all workplaces, and if non-compliant employers face a credible threat of enforcement action. This is not currently the case as the HSE and Local Authority resources are inadequate and there is too much emphasis on encouragement, advice and voluntary measures over straightforward direct enforcement action from regular proactive inspections, reactive inspections, blitzes and investigation of injuries and incidents, the serving of enforcement notices and prosecutions. Small and medium sized enterprises should not be treated more leniently than larger workplaces, all workers are entitled to the same protection.

  1.2  The HSE supports goal setting approaches to H&S but there is much evidence that SME's find this hard to do, fail to conduct even rudimentary risk assessments or to be aware of what they need to do to meet their statutory duties. While organisations representing SMEs continually complain about legislation being too prescriptive, a burden and far too onerous, it is also clear that many SMEs would actually prefer to be told exactly what to do and how to do it. The recent costly Workplace Health Connect Flop highlighted this. While WHC was aimed at providing SME's with advice on managing occupational health, it found that most enquiries were extremely basic and covered implementing H&S policies and risk assessment procedures which have legal requirements for many years. It is clear that while they need the carrot of access to good quality help and advice, SME's also need the stick of enforcement to make them take it up and use it to come into compliance and fulfil their duties to protect the health, safety and welfare of their own employees and others who may be affected.

  1.3  Injuries and incidents at work are the responsibility of employers who have a duty of care and statutory duties to meet—HE analysis is that 70% of major injuries are caused by management failure and it is workers, and others such as members of the public, who are the victims when employers breach their duties. H&S law is criminal law and employers beaching these laws are committing criminal acts and so workers injured, killed or made ill, are victims of crime. HSE Inspectors are law enforcers and hold a warrant card and the Hazards Campaign would like to see them use their powers and authority to uphold the law and act to support and protect potential victims of crime, i.e workers. This requires a shift in attitude which currently puts employers and duty holders on an equal footing with workers and other so called `stakeholders'. This leads to the ludicrous situation where employers as `stakeholders' are consulted about any `burdens' H&S regulations may impose on them. In other words, employers who are potential criminals are consulted about enforcement action. This is akin to consulting burglars and muggers about policing activities. There needs to be much more support for, and a higher weighting of the views of the potential victims of crime—workers and others—and the actual victims of crime—workers and others who are injured or made ill, and the families of workers killed, injured or made ill by work. There are a number of victim support group, for example: Families Against Corporate Killers, Asbestos Victims Support Group around the country, Battersea Crane Disaster Action Group, Simon Jones Memorial Campaign, Construction Safety Campaign.

  1.4  The HSE shows great reluctance to enforce the safety reps statutory functions and the employer's duties that facilitate safety reps operating. In other areas of non-compliance the HSE conducts blitzes but despite paying much lip service to the value and vital role safety reps play, consistently fails to enforce the regulations governing safety reps. Consequently employers fail to provide information, consult effectively and in good time; provide time off for training and duties, plus provision of other facilities and assistance and safety reps are prevented from making the positive effect in preventing injuries and ill-health in their workplaces as they have no support from the HSE in forcing their employers to comply with the law. HSE Inspectors need to make much more contact with workers, trade union safety reps, and representatives of employee safety, and be seen to be there to enforce the law that is intended to protect workers.

  1.5  As workers and safety reps are the potential victims of crime when their employers fail to comply with the law, they should be able to call upon the enforcement authorities to uphold their rights to protection of their health and safety and to rigorously enforce their employer's duties. As many workers in SMEs are vulnerable in some way, including migrant workers, they should have more protection from `the H&S police' not less.

  1.6  The Hazards Campaign has criticised existing and new law on Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide as inadequate because positive duties on directors and decision makers have been excluded. Failure to include such duties in the new law continues the current inequity between organisations in that an employer in a small organisation may still be held responsible for manslaughter but in a large organisation it is extremely unlikely that any individual decision maker could be held individually to account. The penalty for corporate manslaughter is only a fine not imprisonment which we feel is an inadequate consequence for killing a person.

  1.7  The recently published voluntary guidance on Directors duties for health and safety may have some value but we feel they would be better as an ACOP to a clear legislation making directors responsible. Available evidence is that voluntary codes and guidance are ineffective in gaining compliance with law.

2.  RESOURCES

  2.1  The Hazards Campaign believes that all health and safety enforcement is grossly under resourced. Given the financial cost to the economy of H&S failures is between £20-30 billion, and the individual cost to the individual and their families is huge and incalculable, the budget of the HSE should be vastly increased so it can tackle the unacceptable costs of employers lack of compliance.

  2.2  It is clear from HSE published statistic, from FOI responses and from the uncorrected transcript of oral evidence given by Judith Hackitt and Geoffrey Podger to the Work & Pensions Committee in Hansard, that currently a lack of resources is having a major detrimental impact on the ability of the HSE to carry out its function of enforcing health and safety. For example, the Revitalising H&S PSA targets are not being met; the number of injuries which met the criteria for investigation but are not being investigated due to lack of resources has trebled in the last three years; work-related death investigations are delayed due to lack of mechanical engineers resource; inspections, enforcement notices and prosecutions are all drastically down in the last few years.

  2.3  Given the further planned cuts of over 5% per year 2008-09—2010-11, cumulative to 15-16%, the Hazards Campaign seriously doubts that this level of resource reduction can be tolerated without massive reduction in the already inadequate work of the HSE. This will lead to a rise in non-compliance by employers with a consequent rise in deaths, injuries and ill-health. This is morally unacceptable and also financially unacceptable and failure to properly—not just adequately—fund will cost the UK very dear indeed.

Hazards Campaign

January 2008





 
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