Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence

Further evidence submitted by DWP

Q1  DWP accepts that prosecution levels are low and that penalties rarely reflect the seriousness of health and safety offences. What is the Government doing to address this?

  1.  HSE does not measure itself by the quantity of enforcement action it takes and does not set. HSE remains committed to prosecuting in accordance with HSC's Enforcement Policy Statement (EPS).

  2.  HSE's use of formal enforcement had fallen over recent years however following a programme of work (the Enforcement Programme) this trend has to some extent been reversed. The 2006-07 enforcement figures, released in November 2007, showed that both the use of enforcement notices and the number of offences prosecuted has increased.



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
2006-071,141848 8,071
(Increase on 2005-06)(+8%) (+22%)

  3.  Ministers, HSC and HSE have long maintained that, in general, fines for health and safety offences are too low. 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 commitment made in the Revitalising Health and Safety Strategy Statement Action Point 7—June 2000). This includes making custodial sentences available to the courts for most health and safety offences.

  4.  DWP and HSC/E welcome the Rt. Hon. Keith Hill MP's Private Member's Bill to raise maximum penalties for health and safety offences. The Bill received its Second Reading on 1 February 2008 and is now awaiting a date for its Committee stage in the Commons.

Q2  37 per cent of employers do not believe that they receive sufficient health and safety guidance from HSC/E. What is HSC doing to address this?

  1.  HSE produces two forms of published guidance: detailed, authoritative, formal guidance (including Approved Codes of Practice) and shorter information leaflets, which are usually free and downloadable. HSE guidance is widely praised. The latest (2006) Ipsos MORI poll revealed the following statistics:

    —  On quality 63% of employers and 73% of CEOs said that the guidance they received from HSE was about right—24% of employers and 17% of directors said that they did not receive enough while 10% of employers and 7% of directors said that they received too much.

    —  Amongst those who have had contact with HSE in their work—89% of employers and 90% of CEOs agreed that HSE is a helpful organisation.

  2.  In a recent independent accessibility review of Government websites, HSE's website achieved full marks in all areas of accessibility.[96]

  3.  HSE recognises, however, that there remains a perception that health and safety legislation can be bureaucratic. It is to help address this that HSE has put in place its Sensible Risk Management initiatives. These aim to "demystify" risk management and help businesses see what "good enough" risk assessment looks like. In addition, the new impact assessment process now in place requires that the impact of all significant non-regulatory policy proposals are assessed, to ensure that the costs of complying with, for example, HSE guidance are justified by the benefits.

Q3  HSC has established a subscription-only site, hsedirect. How do you respond to criticism that all HSC's advice and guidance should be free to business?

  1.  The hsedirect service was introduced to meet a specific need by bringing together guidance from HSE and legislative information from the publisher's LexisNexis Butterworths. The value added nature of the service requires that it should be priced.

  2.  HSC/HSE has given consideration to making all of HSE's advice and guidance free to business. However, the loss of income would have to be accompanied by a corresponding reduction in expenditure, which in turn would require HSE to reduce health and safety activity. In these circumstances, given HSE's full programme of work it is not feasible to make all of its guidance, particularly more specialist publications, freely available to business in the near future.

Q4  Is there any data on uptake of this service? What proportion of hsedirect's subscribers are SMEs?

  1.  The service has averaged its current rate of some 3,000 annual subscribers each year, since its introduction in 2000. Some 300 day tickets, which provides access for 24 hours are also taken out each year.

  2.  The HSE Direct service is not specifically aimed at SMEs, therefore the number of SMEs paying the £299 (plus VAT) current annual subscription is very small (approx. 5%).

  3.  HSE Direct was introduced to be of particular interest and assistance to those at the top of large organisations and their support staff to help them achieve high standards of health and safety. The service provides a central resource for accessing health and safety guidance and associated legal information.

  4.  In order to provide broader and more affordable access to the service a day ticket to the full HSE Direct service is available to all for £20 plus VAT.

Q5  What role will the new Risk and Regulation Advisory Council (RRAC) play in improving businesses' approach to health and safety? How do you expect the RRAC to address over-regulation by duty holders and those who advise them?

  The RRAC is in its early days and still developing its workstreams, therefore it is not possible to give a detailed answer at this stage. However, we do hope that the RRAC will help shine a light upon the gap between genuine legal requirements and overly-bureaucratic and risk-averse actions taken by a small number of organisations that are then widely reported. This would be helpful in supporting HSE's own work to focus attention upon practical measures to manage real risks.

Q6  Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations employers are required to appoint one or more competent persons to assist them. However, concern has been expressed about the fact that competence for this purpose is not statutorily defined and the guidance given on this term's meaning in the supporting ACOP is rather general and imprecise, with the result that in many situations risk assessments may be carried out by inappropriately qualified people. How do you respond to this concern?

  1.  The competence required of a health and safety advisor must be related to the job in hand, ie what particular advice is to be provided. Advice provided could range from the relatively simple, requiring not much more than informed commonsense from the advisor (eg risk assessment where the risks are well-known and the controls straightforward such as in offices, hairdressing salons, motor vehicle repair shops) to those requiring a high degree of specialism (eg risk assessment in a major hazard plant).

  2.  HSC/E's approach on competence must be flexible to accommodate the scope of advice that could be required; thus the approach taken sets competence as a goal to be achieved, rather than as a required set of pre-determined, specified skills or qualifications. It is for employers to satisfy themselves that the advisors they use have a sufficient level of competence for the job in hand.

  3.  The core criteria for basic competence in OSH management are essentially defined in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations and should be applied by all businesses, including contractors.

  6.  HSE recognises that under-reporting is an issue, but HSE combines information from RIDDOR with that from other sources, such as the Labour Force Survey, to provide as full a picture as possible of injury rates to inform HSE's and LAs' operational activities, helping them to target resources effectively.

  7.  HSC conducted a Fundamental Review of RIDDOR during 2005 and early 2006. Respondents to the review's public discussion exercise agreed that RIDDOR had flaws, but there was no consensus on potential change.

  8.  HSC considered the outcome of the review in July 2006 and concluded that having thoroughly examined needs for information, stakeholder views and potential change options, there was no clear appetite for radical change at present and despite RIDDOR's flaws, the costs and risks of change were not worth taking at that time.

  9.  The Commission directed HSE to make improvements to streamline and simplify the reporting process and its communication, particularly from the point of view of small and medium sized businesses; and so make it clearer that reporting is easy to do by calling the Incident Contact Centre.

  10.  HSE's actions centre on a new communications strategy centred on a simple "just ring and report" message. In particular:

    —  A new simple and better targeted leaflet, backed up with new RIDDOR webpages that search-engines will find easily and which consolidate information on RIDDOR into a single HSE website.

    —  Upgrading the performance of the e-mail forms to make reporting and recording easier.

Q8  How many calls have there been to the HSE helpline to report cases of poor health and safety in a workplace? How many of these have been investigated?

  The total number of calls passed from the HSE Infoline to HSE offices is recorded but a breakdown of the type and nature of the calls is not. The calls passed on range from, for example, concerns raised about specific workplaces to requests for detailed advice or requests to speak to individual HSE staff. All concerns reported to the HSE Infoline regarding poor health and safety in relation to a particular workplace or work activity are passed onto the relevant HSE office to be dealt with. HSE offices also directly receive calls from the public raising concerns. All concerns raised in relation to a work activity for which HSE is the enforcing authority are subject to HSE's complaints procedure. HSE does not keep records of the proportion of such calls that are investigated.

Q9  Where is the additional increased income in "charges", as mentioned by Lord McKenzie in oral evidence, going to come from?

  1.  The increase in income will come from:

    —  Recovering the costs of "common good" work which are essential elements of the regulatory regimes in high hazard industries but which cannot be attributed to individual sites or companies. These costs will be included in the total amount to be recovered in the large scale "permissioning" schemes (Offshore oil and gas, onshore major hazards—covered by the Control of Major Hazard Regulations, 1999—and Gas Transportation) from April 2008. Examples are policy development, meetings with industry representatives to discuss and resolve cross-cutting sector and emerging issues and guidance to inspectors to ensure consistency; and

    —  Extending cost recovery by extending charging for "conventional" health and safety work in the nuclear, onshore major hazard and gas transportation schemes to the extent it is not already in place (except for smaller, less complex onshore sites and a small number of larger sites where a hazardous substance is used as part of the main function of the site). These proposals will allow full cost recovery in these schemes.

  2.  Together, it is estimated that these measures will mean that HSE recovers an additional £12 million of its existing costs over the three year SR07 period. The estimates above do not include any cost HSE incurs in relation to any new civil nuclear power generation work.

96   SiteMorse Website Benchmarking Survey Report-see Back

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