Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence


Supplementary questions submitted DWP

Q1.   How often are companies issued with enforcement notices or prosecuted for failing to comply with statutory occupational health requirements?

  We are unable to separately identify the number of enforcement notices issued and prosecutions that relate solely to non-compliance with occupational health legislative requirements. The enforcement data we hold (notices and prosecutions) is in relation to specific statutory and regulatory requirements. We cannot, generally, separate out health breaches from other breaches except in specific "health" legislation (eg COSHH, Asbestos). A large proportion of notices issued and prosecutions brought are under HSWA (8,677 notices in 2006-07).

Q2.   Are Occupational Exposure Limits (OEL) enforced? If so do you have any figures on this that you can provide for us?

  Where chemical exposures are concerned, enforcement action on occupational exposure limits occurs principally in context of the COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) Regulations. For the period 2006-07 HSE issued 1,097 Notices for breaches of COSHH and secured 13 convictions, with an average fine, per conviction of £11,308.

  Under Regulation 7 of COSHH, enforcement action can include failure to comply with principles of good practice for the control of exposure as well as non-compliance with workplace exposure limits.

Background

  1.  COSHH regulation 7 (1) requires employers "to ensure that exposure of his employees to substances hazardous to health is either prevented, or where this is not reasonably practicable, adequately controlled". Workplace exposure limits (WELs) (also known as occupational exposure limits) form part of Regulation 7 (7). This states "that exposure shall only be treated as adequate if:

    a)  The principles of good practice for the control of exposure to substances hazardous to health set out in Schedule 2A are applied;

    b)  any workplace exposure limit approved for the substance is not exceeded; and

    c)  for certain specified groups of substances, exposure is reduced to as low a level as is reasonably practicable.

  2.  In addition to the COSHH Regulations, occupational exposure limits are also found within the Control of Lead at Work Regulations (a "control limit" is the nearest equivalent in asbestos legislation).

Q3.   Do you have inspectors whose sole remit is occupational health? If so, how many?

Numbers of OH professionals

  HSE currently employs:

    —  7 doctors based in field offices (5.7 Full-time equivalents) comprising:

    —  3 senior medical inspectors; and

    —  4 medical inspectors (2.7 Full-time equivalents).

    —  2 doctors in other corporate-support roles.

    —  25 (22.4 Full-time equivalents) OH nurses as occupational health inspectors (OHIs).

  HSE's Health & Safety Laboratory's (HSL) Centre for Workplace Health has:

    —  3 doctors (1.8 Full-time equivalents) with 2 others joining in April 2008. All have/will have specialist clinical appointments in the NHS in respiratory disease, OH and musculoskeletal disease.

    —  2 occupational health and two respiratory nurses (2.8 Full-time equivalents), and two occupational health technicians.

  HSC/E's approach to OH is a combination of activities including awareness raising, communication, inspection and enforcement, and advice.

  HSC/E deploys a range of regulatory, specialist and scientific staff in HSE and its Health & Safety Laboratory (HSL) to develop and deliver its OH strategies, identify occupational ill-health and its root-causes, and to advise employers on effective strategies to eliminate or control exposure to hazardous substances or the other causes of ill-health in the workplace. This is done within the context of an overall framework of good OH management with a view to sustained performance.

HSC/E's multidisciplinary approach to occupational health

  In most cases HSE's regulatory inspectors (or enforcement officers in Local Authorities (LAs)) tackle occupational exposure to harmful substances or cases of ill-health, using a range of tools and techniques to influence employers' compliance with health at work legislation from advice through, if necessary, to formal enforcement including prosecution.

  There are currently over 500 regulatory inspectors in HSE deployed on front-line work in industries where they will encounter a wide range of health issues. There are also around 1,000 enforcement officers in LAs across Great Britain dealing with health issues in retail and office activities.

  Inspectors are supported by HSE specialists in a range of health disciplines and by scientist in HSL. HSE regulatory inspectors can call upon, for example:

    —  a national network of 40 occupational hygiene specialists based in HSE's field offices, HSE's Corporate Specialist Division and HSL for further assistance to help them determine the levels of likely exposure of workers to hazardous substances and identify reasonably practicable precautions to prevent or control exposure.

    —  Over 50 other HSE field- and HQ-based specialist inspectors and scientists with expertise in other health areas, eg, noise and vibration, biomedical science, radiation protection, ergonomics and health psychology.

    —  25 occupational health inspectors (OHIs) to advise on standards of occupational health provision in workplaces. This capability can be supplemented by the two OH nurses in HSL.

    —  7 HSE's medical inspectors based in field offices, and though them the specialist medical capability in HSL.

Q4.   What proportion of a general inspection is given to checks for causes of ill health?

  For the 2006-07 year FOD inspectors spent circa 25% of their planned inspection time on ill health aspects of the Fit 3 Agenda.

Background

  For the purpose of the question ill health topics include:

    —  Asbestos

    —  Asthma

    —  Carcinogens

    —  Dermatitis

    —  Hand Arm Vibration

    —  Musculoskeletal Disorder

    —  Noise

    —  Other Respiratory Disease

    —  Stress

  The answer does not reflect FOD's total commitment to ill health, with resource applied to both Advice Education and Promotion (AEP) and Local Authority Strategic Programme (LASP) (these two plus inspection make up the directorates pro-active work). We also commit resource to our reactive elements of ill-health (complaint, enforcement, and Investigation).

Q5.   How often, if ever, does HSE take enforcement action against companies who do not comply with worker representation legislation?

    —  HSE inspectors use various enforcement techniques to secure compliance with the law, ranging from the provision of advice and good practice, to formal enforcement notices (improvement and prohibition) and prosecutions. Formal enforcement is only part of HSE's work. HSE inspectors always make specific effort to talk to employee representatives as well as duty holders to ensure compliance with the law.

    —  Figures from HSE's internal Enforcement Notices Database show that from 1997 to February 2008:

    —  5 Improvement Notices have been served for failure to comply with the Safety Representatives and Safety Committee Regulations 1977.

    —  42 Improvement Notices have been served for failure to comply with the Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996 (some in addition to notices issued primarily for other breaches).

Q6.   The Work and Pensions Committee heard evidence that worker consultation on health and safety matters in the off shore industry is particularly poor. Is anything being done about this?

    —  Workforce involvement has been recognised as an area which can be improved and the Workforce Involvement Group, which is a permanent sub-committee of the Offshore Industry Advisory Committee (chaired by the Head of OSD) is giving this issue urgent attention. Last year the Workforce Involvement Group expanded its membership to better reflect key players across the industry and now includes additional union representation, representatives from Step-Change, International Association of Drilling Contractors and three volunteer workforce representatives.

    —  This year the group has already produced revised guidance for offshore worker involvement (entitled "Play Your Part") and is planning to hold a workforce involvement event in Edinburgh on 8 May. This event aims promote and encourage greater workforce involvement especially in the effective management of major hazards. It is part of an ongoing Workforce Involvement Group initiative. It has gained the support of Lord McKenzie, the Minister with responsibility for Health and Safety, who will open the afternoon session.





 
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