Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence

Additional memorandum submitted by Federation of Master Builders

  During the oral evidence session of 23rd January 2008, I made a commitment to provide you with further information on the Worker Safety Advisor project. This letter is intended to discharge that undertaking.

  The Workers' Safety Adviser (WSA) Challenge Fund was launched on 26 March 2004 with the purpose of providing financial support for partnerships created to get more workers involved in occupational health and safety. The scheme focused on small businesses and organisations that lack such arrangements and sponsored projects operating in an wide range of industries, including construction.

  The fund, was a ring fenced £3 million funding stream to be spent equally over the three financial years 2004-05, 2005-06, and 2006-07. Partnerships would form each year and submit a joint project bid through a nominated lead partner, for funds up to £100,000 per application from the total funding of £1 million available in that financial year.

  The FMB formed a partnership with the Transport and General Workers Union (T&GWU), now part of Unite, and the Union of Construction Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT). As the lead partner the FMB submitted a successful bid for a construction project in each of the three years of the WSA challenge fund. The first two projects were based in the South West of England, the third in Glasgow and the surrounding area.

  The project funds were used to support three Worker Safety Advisors (WSAs) who would visit volunteer FMB firms, and advise on health and safety matters. The method used had two key advantages. Firstly, as union trained safety representatives with considerable practical industry experience, the advisors had great credibility with workers and employers alike. Secondly, as the WSAs were employed by FMB, on secondment from their respective unions, and had no statutory powers of enforcement, they were able to gain the trust of the employers. This allowed all involved to raise any concerns without fear of negative repercussions.

  In terms of the budget break down, the majority of the grant awards for each of the three FMB/T&GWU/UCATT projects were spent on the personnel costs for the three WSAs, such as wages employers' costs, and expenses. Management costs, administration, equipment and office accommodation were provided as an in kind contribution by the various project partners.

  The project ceased with the end of Challenge Fund support, despite its popularity due to lack of funds. The partners, as nonprofit making organisation, were not able to replace the near £100,000 of government funding needed to support the provision of a WSA service in a single region, thus completely ruling out the possibility of the partnership independently running a full national programme. It became apparent towards the end of the Challenge Fund, that it was unlikely that HSE would be able to find the necessary funds to continue Challenge Fund levels of support, and this was the eventual outcome. As a result the FMB/Unite/UCATT WSA scheme in the construction industry closed on 31 March 2007.

  As I mentioned in my evidence I raised the benefits of the scheme, and FMB's concerns that it had ceased, at the Construction Industry Health and Safety Summit convened by the-then Secretary of State Peter Hain. Mr Hain said he would make enquiries about the ending of the funding, but I have heard nothing about the outcome of his enquiries.

  I hope that this has proved of interest.

23 January 2008

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