Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Department for Work and Pensions, November 2007


  1.  The Health and Safety HSC (the "HSC") and the Health and Safety Executive (the "HSE") were established in 1974 by the Health and Safety at Work etc Act (HSWA) as two separate legal entities. The HSC and HSE are statutory non-departmental public bodies, performing their functions on behalf of the Crown. Responsibility for the HSC and HSE transferred to the Department for Work and Pensions in July 2002.

  2.  HSWA sets out the general duties that employers have towards employees and members of the public, those that employees have to themselves and to each other, and the duties of the self-employed. A fundamental principle of the legal framework is that the responsibility for health and safety lies with those who own and manage workplaces. They must assess the risks attached to their activity and take proportionate action.

  3.  The HSE advises and assists the HSC. It has a statutory responsibility for the enforcement of HSWA and other relevant statutory provisions in Great Britain. It also proposes new laws and standards, conducts and sponsors research, promotes training and provides information and advice.

  4.  The achievements of the HSC and the HSE over the last 33 years, working closely with Local Authorities (LA), have been substantial. Great Britain has one of the best safety records in the European Union and has seen a reduction in work-related ill health and injury from 40 million days lost per year in 2000-02 to 36 million in 2006-07. In 1974 there were 651 fatal injuries to employees in production and some service industries. The comparable figure for 2006-07 is 241, a reduction of nearly two-thirds on the number of fatalities that took place in 1974. Although compositional changes in the workforce can explain some of the improvement, the regulatory regime, proposed by the HSC and enforced by the HSE and local authorities, has been a major contributor.


  5.  The Government, concerned by a slowing rate of improvement in health and safety in the workplace during the 1990s, published Revitalising Health and Safety (RHS) in 2000 setting out priorities and actions considered vital to the achievement of challenging goals for the reduction in the incidence of injury and ill health and days lost in the workplace. RHS set bold targets for work-related ill-health and injury improvements with the goal, for 2010, of reducing:

    a.  The rate of fatalities and major injuries by 10%.

    b.  The incidence of work- related ill health by 20%.

    c.  The number of working days lost from work-related injury and ill health by 30%.

  6.  HSE has agreed with Government separate targets for the major hazard industries, that is, onshore hazards, offshore hazards and the nuclear industry. These are reductions in the number of:

    a.  events reported by licence holders, which HSE's Nuclear Directorate judges as having the potential to challenge a nuclear safety system, by 7.5% based on the 2001-02 baseline;

    b.  major and significant hydrocarbon releases in the offshore oil and gas sector by 45%, based on the 2001-02 baseline; and

    c.  relevant reportable dangerous occurrences in the onshore sector by 15% based on the 2001-02 baseline.

  7.  The RHS and Major Hazards targets, aspirational by their nature, were formulated with the intention of helping to drive improved health and safety outcomes and, for the major hazards industries, provide a clearer focus on process safety. HSE can not achieve these targets on its own. Close partnership working between HSE, LAs and a wide range of stakeholders is essential to achieve these targets and sustain the desired improvements.

  8.  The HSC and HSE recognised that RHS should be supplemented by a strategy setting out the direction that would need to be followed by the Commission, the HSE and stakeholders, in order to achieve the desired improvements to health and safety. HSC's Strategy for workplace health and safety in Great Britain to 2010 and beyond, launched in February 2004, is aimed at helping achieve targets. It brings a clearer focus on the overall direction and gives priorities for the health and safety system as a whole.

  9.  The Strategy is designed to promote the vision with health and safety as a cornerstone of a civilised society and to contribute towards the goal of Great Britain having a record of workplace health and safety that leads the world. The Strategy is underpinned by four key themes to guide HSC/E:

    i.  Developing closer partnerships.

    ii.  Helping people benefit from effective health and safety management and a sensible health and safety culture.

    iii.  Focusing on the core business and the right interventions where HSE and Local Authorities are best placed to reduce workplace injury and ill health.

    iv.  Communicating the vision.

  10.  The best and most effective health and safety management systems are those led with commitment from the top. HSC has worked closely with a wide range of stakeholders to focus attention on the vital contribution that director leadership plays in promoting an effective health and safety culture which, in turn, delivers good health and safety performance. Guidance published jointly by the IoD and HSC in October 2007, "Leading health and safety at work", sets out an agenda for effective leadership and provides practical advice for directors on how to plan, deliver, monitor and review health and safety in the workplace.


  11.  HSE has been asked to cover the following issues in the Memorandum:

    a.  Progress against the PSA Targets

    b.  Resources

    c.  Occupational health

    d.  How and Where We Work Project

    e.  Enforcement and Inspection

    f.  Health and safety in the Construction industry

    g.  Proposed merger of the HSC and the HSE and planned new governance arrangements


  12.  These are the latest statistics and analysis on work related ill-health and workplace injury in Great Britain. More detailed information is available on HSE's website at In 2006-07:

    —  241 workers were killed.

    —  2.2 million people were suffering from an illness they believed was caused or made worse by their current or past work.

    —  36 million days were lost due to work-related ill-health and workplace injury (30 million and six million respectively).

Table 1


  13.  The outturn for 2006-07 measured against HSE's Public Service Agreement (PSA) targets set out in Table 1 records:

Occupational health and safety indicators Baseline (2004-05)Outturn (2006-07) PSA Target (2007-08)
The incidence rate of fatal and major injury per 100,000 workers 118.6107.71115.0
(9.2% reduction) (3% reduction)
The incidence rate of work-related ill health per 100,000 workers 1,8002,1001,700
(13.5% increase2) (6% reduction)
The number of working days lost from work-related injury and ill health per worker
(1.1% increase3) (9% reduction)

1  Provisional

2  Subject to 95% confidence interval—range of possibilities is 4.0% to 23.0%

3  Subject to 95% confidence interval—range of possibilities is ¸10.9% to 13.1%

  14.  For the period from 2004-05 to 2007-08, HSE's PSA targets, agreed in 2004-05, are for reductions of 3%, 6% and 9% for fatal and major injuries, work-related ill health and working days lost measured against the 2004-05 baseline. The assessment for 2005-06 suggested that injuries were not on track, whilst ill health was on track, and days lost was probably on track. On the basis of 2006-07 statistics that showed rises in both cases of ill-health and days lost, HSE is on track to meet the fatal and major injuries target, no longer on track to meet the three year ill health target, and not on track to meet the days lost per worker targets. Although disappointing, the latest assessment does not mean we will not achieve the 2010 targets. To achieve these targets however, will require continued productive and focused collaborative working between HSE, LA and other stakeholder partners through a range of interventions.

  15.  In 2006-07, there was a sudden rise in the incidence (new cases) of self-reported work-related ill health, reversing the previous downward trend, and taking the level back to a similar order to that in 2001-02. Based on initial investigations, this recent increase appears not to be due to changes in the design of the Labour Force Survey (LFS). The results on ill health and days lost are very disappointing. We are doing more work to investigate the figures.

  16.  Performance of the major hazards sub-targets are broadly on track but showing slippage due to a levelling of the offshore indicator over the last two years. Table 2 reports the performance position at the end of the second quarter, 2007-08. The indicators show:

    i.  Precursor events in the nuclear industry are ahead of profile to deliver the sub-target.

    ii.  Precursor events in the offshore sector are under considerable pressure to deliver the sub-target, which is probably linked to increasing offshore activity on ageing infrastructure.

    iii.  Precursor events in the onshore chemicals sector are ahead of profile to achieve the sub-target.

Table 2


Sub-targetBaselines (2001-2) Outturn to Q2, 2007-08Target For End 2007-08
7.5% reduction in the number of events reported by licence holders, which HSE's Nuclear Installations Inspectorate judges as having the potential to challenge a nuclear safety system 14350132
45% reduction in the number of major and significant hydrocarbon releases in the offshore oil and gas sector 11339162
15% reduction in the number of relevant RIDDOR reportable dangerous occurrences in the onshore sector 179391152

1  Provisional



  17.  HSE's Memorandum to the Work and Pensions Committee in May 2006 confirmed that HSC/E faced many demands on its resources. Since then, these demands on and for HSC/E's expertise have, if anything, increased as, for example:

    a.  activity rates in some parts of the construction industry have risen markedly;

    b.  incidents such as at Buncefield and Texas City in the chemical industry have placed significant, unforeseen pressures on resources;

    c.  increases in the number of migrant workers and contractorisation in the profile of the workforce generally has continued; and

    d.  public safety and other issues like hospital-acquired infections, work-related Road Traffic Accidents and the investigation into the potential breach of biosecurity at the Pirbright site.


  18.  HSC's Strategy is kept under review in order to identify any emerging issues that will help it to steer HSE's priorities. HSE then ensures its resources are deployed effectively to meet its responsibilities. HSE's approach is to target priority risks and sectors, and apply an appropriate mix of intervention and influencing techniques including inspection, enforcement action, communication, advice and support. HSC has outlined its approach to the regulatory methods it will use in its publication "Sensible health and safety at work". The main features of the approach to be followed both by HSE and Local Authorities include:

    a.  Concentrating on priorities, risk and poor performance.

    b.  Choosing intervention methods.

    c.  Balancing preventative work with investigation.

    d.  Enforcement.

    e.  Engaging with the workforce.

    f.  Stimulating and recognising good performance.

Finance and Staffing

  19.  HSE's spend and income for the years 2003-04 to the present are set out in Table 3. HSC/E's funding is provided predominantly by grant from DWP. The settlement for the three years from 2005-06 was slightly better than flat in cash terms following SR04 because HSE had previously, intentionally, built up a reserve and rolled forward the accumulated cash to boost activity. Over the SR2004 period, £17 million of this money is being used to fund the Workplace Health Connect (WHC) pathfinder projects, which provide advice to SMEs on improving health and safety in their workplaces.

Table 3

HSE RESOURCES, 2003/04—2007/08
HSE (excl HSL)2003-04 Outturn £m 2004-05 Outturn £m2005-06 Outturn £m 2006-07 Outturn £m 2007-08 Forecast £m
Admin (gross)197203 220225219
Programme (gross)48 506864 62
Total Expenditure245 253288 289281
Income(50)(47) (50)(55)(56)
Net Resources195 206238 234225
Capital Expenditure7 4566

Figures have been adjusted to exclude Rail work which transferred to the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) on 1 April 2006.

Employers' superannuation increased by £5.4 million pa from 1 April 2005

  20.  The chart below shows that staff and staff related expenditure account for the major part of HSE's administration expenditure.

  21.  Table 4 below shows that over the period 1 April 2003 to 1 October 2007, taking account of the transfer to ORR, HSE's staff numbers fell by 502 full time equivalent (FTE) posts (13%). Over the period covered by SR2002, staff numbers fell by 259 posts (6%). After an increase of 88 posts in 2005-06 as HSE boosted activity, it then reined backed to live within its overall, three-year SR2004 settlement. HSE's total staffing reduced by just under 10% in the 18 months from 1 April 2006 to 1 October 2007 but consistent with HSE's aim to minimise the impact on delivery, the number of inspectors fell by approximately 2% over the same period. Falling staff numbers are a virtually inevitable consequence of settlements at or around flat cash and cumulative inflation.

  22.  HSC/E is still discussing its settlement with DWP for the period 2008-09 to 2010-11 as part of SR2007.

Table 4



a)  The figures are for full time equivalents and include the Health and Safety Laboratory and agency staff. The figures for 1.4.2002—1.4.2007 match the staffing data in the respective HSC Annual Reports.

b)  The shaded column is for comparison and include staff that transferred to the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) on 1.04.06.

c)  The duplicate column for 1.04.2006 excludes staff that transferred to ORR.

d)  The figures at 1.10.07 include staff from the Office for Civil Nuclear Safety and the UK Safeguards Office that transferred from DTI to HSE.


  23.  The HSE has to make the best use of the resources it has available to it. This includes ensuring as much resource as possible goes to improving health and safety outcomes. In 2006 the HSE initiated the How and Where We Work (HWWW) review to make its working arrangements more effective, while reducing its estates costs and improving the standard of its poorer accommodation. HSE's review examined the financial and business case for a move from headquarters split between London and Bootle to a single headquarters in Bootle and the measures necessary to secure greater efficiencies in its field estate while maintaining a nationwide network of offices.

  24.  The estate, comprising 31 offices, is a significant and rising component of HSE's cost base. This places real pressure on resources. In 2006-07 the estate accounted for some £27 million (excluding depreciation and the cost of capital) or about 10% of total spend. Inflation will increase estate costs and if funding reduces the proportion of resource going on accommodation would increase sharply leaving less for health and safety interventions. Moreover many offices are underused now and do not represent the best use of HSE's resources.

  25.  On 6 November 2007 HSC endorsed the HSE Board's decision to end its headquarters split between London and Bootle and have a single headquarters in Bootle. The decision followed careful consideration of the evidence from the HWWW review, including a very strong business case, and will: create a single HQ in Bootle in HSE's new PFI building which consolidates much of HSE's north west estate and which has spare capacity; retain a small non-operational presence in London for work which requires essential and frequent face-to-face contact with key London stakeholders, along with the London operational field force and HSE's Construction Division.

  26.  This places just over 300 or so posts (out of a total organisational head count of some 3,500) potentially in scope for relocation from London.

  27.  The costs and benefits have been subject to a 10 year investment appraisal and the net results (discounted) is a gain of between £31 million and £43 million.


  28.  In 2006-07, the Health and Safety Statistics indicate that the GB trend was not on track to meet the PSA targets for reducing incidence rates of ill health and working days lost. This reverses a previous three year downward trend. Ill-health continues to be the major cause of working days lost, accounting for about 30 million days a year, and in the light of the disappointing figures for 2006-07 more needs to be done to tackle this important area.

  29.  As the Memorandum of Evidence submitted to the Committee in May 2006 noted, health has always been harder to tackle than safety since the cause and effect are often not clearly linked. The view of occupational health has now widened from exposure to hazardous materials and agents (for example, asbestos related and chemical carcinogens) to cover common health problems such as depression and backache.

  30.  As well as tackling the two main causes of work-related ill-health, stress and musculoskeletal disorders, the HSE has been working with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Department of Health (DH) and the health departments in the Scottish and Welsh Assembly Governments to implement the Health Work and Well-being strategy (HWWB). HWWB focuses on the health of the working age population and in particular on:

    —  Improving the general health of the working age population.

    —  Creating healthier workplaces and preventing people from becoming ill or being injured as a result of their work and maximising the opportunity that workplaces provide to help people make healthy lifestyle choices.

    —  Maximising the opportunity that workplaces provide to help people make healthier lifestyle choices.

    —  Encouraging the provision of effective rehabilitation and return to work support.

  31.  Accordingly, HSE's current priorities in occupational health in support of HWWB include:

    a.  Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD).

    b.  Stress with particular reference to the public sector.

    c.  Reducing sickness absence with particular reference to the public sector.

    d.  Reducing work-related disease including occupational cancer.

  32.  We know from various surveys that sickness absence tends to be higher in larger organisations. Most public sector bodies fall in to that category. And demographics play a part—older workers, part time workers and women workers all tend to have more absence that the rest of the population and these groups make up a higher proportion of the public sector workforce. Understanding the factors at work is an important element in devising the right management solutions. The Civil Service Permanent Secretaries have agreed to take action to tackle this and committed their departments to report on a range of well-being measures every quarter.

  33.  The annual number of mesothelioma deaths has risen more than 10-fold since the late 1960s with 2,037 deaths in 2005. The most recent projections suggest a peak in annual deaths somewhere between current levels and 2,450 per year some time between 2011 and 2015. There are estimated 4,000 deaths each year caused by asbestos. There are also over 100 deaths per year due to asbestosis—a chronic scarring of the lung tissue caused by exposure to asbestos.

  34.  HSE's Disease Reduction Programme is contributing towards the target for work-related ill-health by reducing the incidence of skin disease and occupational asthma. Additionally the programme aims to make a real impact on the risk factors associated with the development of long latency diseases, specifically work-related cancer (both asbestos-related and that caused by other chemical carcinogens) and long latency respiratory diseases such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and silicosis.

  35.  Not all work-related ill health can be prevented; this is particularly true for stress and MSDs. Those who have become ill through their work need early effective interventions to help them return to work. Support is also important where people have existing health conditions that have the potential to affect their ability to work. They need support and possible adaptations and any risk assessment need to take into account their ability.

  36.  There is a good business case for getting experienced staff back to work as soon as possible, however they acquired their injury/ill health. When people have been off sick for more than six weeks, almost one in five will stay off sick and eventually leave work.


  37.  The HSE can use a range of tools (prosecuting, issuing prohibition and improvement notices, as well as giving information and advice) to seek compliance with the law. These give us what we need to ensure proportionate action. The proportionate use of enforcement underpins and amplifies the HSE's other activities to deliver sustainable, long-term reduction in occupational injury and ill health.

Table 5


Offences Prosecuted ConvictionsEnforcement Notices
2002-031,6591,273 13,324
2003-041,7201,317 11,335
2004-051,3201,025 8,471
2005-061,056840 6,593
2006-07 (prov)1,141 8488,099
(Increase on 2005-06)(+8%) (+23%)

Note:  2006-07 provisional figures expected to increase upon finalisation

Investigation policy and criteria

  38.  HSE's investigative and enforcement work is carried out in conformity with policies and criteria agreed with the HSC including:

    a.  HSC's Enforcement Policy Statement (EPS); and

    b.  HSC's Incident Selection Criteria.

  39.  The criteria the HSE uses in deciding which incidents are investigated are published in the Commission's Incident Selection Criteria (ISC)—see The HSE investigates around 94% of reported incidents meeting the Commission's selection criteria.

  40.  A number of measures have been instituted by HSE in the light of findings from an audit it commissioned to examine the scope for improved enforcement decision making. HSE has communicated clearer expectations for the use of enforcement to deliver strategic aims; and senior managers have taken action to reinforce the principles of the EPS when making enforcement decisions.

Prosecutions following fatal accidents

  41.  In addition, HSE's prosecution decisions following fatal accidents are assessed in the circumstances of each individual case and in accordance with the published criteria in the Code for Crown Prosecutors in England and Wales. Decisions in respect of fatal accident investigations in Scotland are made by the Procurator Fiscal.

Balance of proactive to reactive work

  42.  HSE's goal is to see resources directed to proactive work—preventing harm in the first place is better than reacting afterwards. HSE's aspiration is to maintain a 60-40 ratio in our proactive:reactive caseload, as endorsed by the Commission. The balance of the proactive:reactive caseload was 65-35 in 2005-06 and 51-49 in 2006-07.


  43.  Ministers, HSC and HSE have long maintained that, in general, fines for health and safety offences are too low a point made on a number of occasions by HSC/E and supported by the Hampton and Macrory Reviews. The Government remains committed to raising maximum health and safety penalties when there is a legislative opportunity and as Parliamentary time allows in line with the long-standing commitment made in the Revitalising Health and Safety Strategy statement in June 2000.

  44.  In 2005-06, the average penalty per conviction, excluding railways, chemical, mining and offshore industries, was £29,997[69] but excluding exceptional fines of £100,000 or more, the average falls to £6,219.


  45.  The goal of HSE's Construction programme is to work effectively with key stakeholders to improve health and safety standards. This goal presents particular challenges, not least of which is tackling the high fatal accident rate in the industry. At over four times the all-industry average, it results in the largest number of fatalities to workers of any industry sector in the UK economy. The fatal accident figures for 2006-07 show a rise from 60-77; an increase of 28% over the exceptionally low figure in 2005-06.

  46.  However, these figures need to be viewed against a backdrop of a buoyant construction industry, where in some sectors there has been considerable increased activity over a number of years, in particular the housing sector, where housing output has increased by 97% between 2001 and 2005. The majority of the increase in fatal accidents in 2006-07 occurred in the house building and domestic refurbishment sectors, areas in which the HSE has already redoubled its efforts. The trend for fatal accident and major injury rates over the longer term, however, remains downwards.

Recent initiatives

  47.  Recent initiatives include:

    a.  The successful Delivery of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 (CDM) which came into force on 6 April 2007. CDM is about focusing attention on effective planning and management of construction projects, from design concept onwards, thereby reducing the risk of harm to those that have to build, use and maintain structures.

    b.  The Secretary of State's September 2007 Construction Forum aimed at reversing the rise in fatal accidents in the house building and domestic refurbishment sectors which led to the agreement of a "Framework for Action". The HSE will be working closely with the Strategic Forum for Construction in monitoring progress against the actions agreed by the industry.

    c.  Major inspection and enforcement initiatives such as those concentrating on refurbishment and roof work. We intend to repeat such high profile initiatives in February 2008.

    d.  The publication of a new Worker Engagement Tool on HSE's website.

    e.  Delivery of a range of activities aimed at SMEs, including the delivery of e-bulletins targeted at specific sectors within the construction industry.

    f.  Continued development of a comprehensive web-based tool on occupational health, "Construction Occupational Health Management Essentials", due to be launched before the end of 2007.

HSE's Construction Priorities

  48.  In addition to the above, the Construction Programme is developing a number of cross-cutting projects to reach specific target audiences:

    a.  Vulnerable workers.

    b.  Work with local authorities in their role as important construction clients, employers and enforcers of health and safety, building and planning regulations and trading standards legislation.

    c.  SMEs: To develop a strategy for influencing and working with SMEs and small construction sites.

    d.  Major Accident Potential: Work to look at managing the risk of multi-fatality incidents, including building and scaffold collapses, tunnelling etc.

    f.  High Impact Interventions: This work will review how and what interventions are carried out with major projects and large companies.

  49.  The HSE's Olympic Games Co-ordinating Group oversees our contribution to delivering safe and successful games. Its principal aims are to ensure that the HSE's approach is coherent and consistent and in accordance with best regulatory practice and to ensure that all opportunities for improving health and safety in construction arising from this flagship project are maximised.


  50.  In December 2006 HSC published a consultation document seeking views on merging HSC and HSE into a single health and safety body. HSC and HSE made clear at that time that there were powerful and persuasive arguments for fundamental change, including the creation of a unitary governing body, and the benefits that would derive from modernising the governance arrangements to conform to current best practice applicable to public bodies.

  51.  The aim of the merger and associated changes is to create a new unitary body to present a strong, clear and accountable external face, and which can internally provide better challenge and support for the HSE team. In so doing key features of the current system to which stakeholders attach great importance will be retained: HSC/E independence, the strong employer/employee input, HSC/E's close partnership with local authorities, and duly authorised officials continuing to take enforcement decisions.

  52.  The positive response from the majority of stakeholders to that consultation led HSC to continue down the merger road. In May 2007 the HSC, having confirmed its intention to take the merger forward, agreed to invite the Minister (Lords), Department for Work and Pensions, to conduct a further consultation exercise to comply with the procedures required by the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006 (LRRA). The specific purpose of this second consultation is to ensure that stakeholders agree that the various rights and protections set out in the LRRA are being respected. This course of action was agreed by the HSC and by the Minister, and the consultative document was duly developed jointly with DWP and published by Lord McKenzie on 8 August 2007. The closing date for responses was 31 October 2007. Ministers are currently considering 26 responses that have been received.

  53.  Subject to Ministers' consideration, the next stage will be to table the legislative Reform Order which would be subject to the scrutiny arrangements set out in the LRRA. With Parliamentary approval, the changes will come into effect in spring next year, thereby strengthening the accountability and focus of the present system, provide a better and comprehensible service to stakeholders and enhance health and safety outcomes all round.


November 2007

69   This includes two fines of £400,000; two fines of £360,000; one fine of £250,000; one fine of £200,000; one fine of £180,000; one fine of £150,000; four fines of £100,000. The average fine without these convictions would be £6,219. Back

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