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The HSE has received more than 445 responses to its initial scoping questionnaire last year from a wide range of sectors. The questionnaire was supplemented by a well-attended stakeholder event in July 2009.
Kelvin Hopkins: Are a high proportion of the representations from employers? Clearly, there will be costs involved in dealing with new legislation or stricter regulation. There would need to be some investment in workplaces to ensure that temperatures could be controlled. How much pressure has been put on both the HSE and the Government by employers?
Along with extensive engagement with stakeholders as part of the further work requested by the HSE board, which I shall touch on later, the work done by the HSE to consult all interested parties is the right approach. It is not fair to say that an attempt to build consensus is the wrong approach. There needs to be discussion. If there were not, there would be a great deal of criticism.
Further analysis was also undertaken as part of the review, including interrogation of the HSE statistics collected under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 and information on complaints and queries submitted to the HSE information line. The analysis revealed that there was little evidence of health effects caused by high temperatures. Infoline information demonstrated that the number of complaints and queries increased in direct relation to hot and cold spells of weather.
In addition, information was considered from key European Union member states-this has been referred to by hon. Members-on how workplace temperatures are managed in their countries, along with research gathered on the experience of managing workplace temperatures in Australia. It is clear from the report that there is no consistent approach to the matter across Europe. Some member states recommend a maximum temperature but others do not.
Kelvin Hopkins: I am interested in what the Minister says about comparable European countries. Would it be fair to say that the most liberal regime at present is in Britain, and that we have some way to go to catch up with what typically happens on the continent?
The HSE board received the report, which concluded that, on balance, workplace temperatures do not justify active regulatory intervention but rather, improved joint working between all parties to the issue: the Government, trade unions and employer representatives. The report included a number of options for consideration, from retaining the current approach to amending the approved code of practice to include a maximum upper temperature limit, in addition to the current lower limit.
The report provided some valuable information and showed that there is a wide range of views on the issue, but the HSE board felt that it was inconclusive. It has asked for further evidence to be gathered to scope the
full extent of the problems presented. As part of that further work, the HSE is keen to focus attention on those sectors that are most affected, and to identify practical and effective steps that can be taken to tackle the problem in those workplaces. That will not preclude a review of the regulatory provisions, but will help to address the issue more speedily and effectively where needed, while also helping to inform further consideration of whether a maximum temperature or a legal trigger for action, which my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington referred to, would be proportionate and effective. So that matter is under active consideration.
My hon. Friend stated that there is a lack of traditional forms of evidence of incidents or illness caused by high temperatures other than anecdotal reports. In attempting to gather as much evidence as possible to allow a full consideration of the problem and any possible regulatory solution, the HSE has developed a survey to cover employers and employees. It was developed with assistance from the HSE's occupational hygienists to ensure that the questions were designed to capture the right information. It was developed with the aim not of achieving a consensus of views on the issue, but of establishing whether there is evidence of health effects caused by working in high temperatures.
The survey was sent to several organisations including employers, employee representatives, trade unions and so on. The HSE was particularly proactive in publicising the survey and encouraging people to respond to it, and we have received many responses in different formats. Responses were requested by 11 February, as the House has heard. There was a huge number of responses-more than 3,000-from health and safety representatives, trade unions, employers and so on. The HSE is in the process of analysing the responses and will work with its economists to calculate the costs and benefits of the options proposed. It will use the information gathered from the survey, along with data relating to the age of the building premises and environmental considerations.
John McDonnell: The Minister mentioned costs. I would like to place on record-perhaps he could pass this message on to the HSE-the fact that the analysis of costs should not just involve the costs to employers of introducing protective or compensatory measures. There should be an understanding, too, of the costs to wider society of the effects of heat on health. The cost burden falls on the individual and their family, then on the NHS and the general taxpayer.
We will look at the information on costs that would be incurred through the introduction of measures to manage the issue, and on potential cost savings that would be generated by increasing productivity and reducing the days lost due to illness. That is another part of the equation that we need to factor in. A facility that is operating with good health and safety measures is an efficient facility-the two do not contradict each other. I have seen that through my own experience of working closely with the paper industry in my constituency, in years gone by.
All of that detailed information will be used to complete a regulatory impact assessment, which will inform the future direction of travel. Due to the complexity of the
issue and the sheer volume of data and evidence to be analysed, it is not possible to say at this stage what the outcome will be. The HSE board will consider the further evidence gathered at its meeting in April 2010, and a report to Ministers will follow in May 2010.
The HSE is establishing a working group with key stakeholders in the baking industry to discuss the problems caused in that sector by workplace temperatures and to discuss any examples of good practice. The group's first meeting will take place on 3 March 2010, and the HSE will subsequently engage in discussions with key stakeholders from other sectors affected by thermal environments. I would encourage the bakers union, the TUC and industry representatives to embrace the sector-specific discussions as an opportunity to help address the concerns of their members while helping to further everyone's understanding of how high workplace temperatures can best be managed and controlled.
John McDonnell: We have had discussions through the trade union group with the bakers union, which is keenly engaged in the sector discussions, but let me make the point that has been made to us by the union itself. It does not want to be seen as part of some form of divide-and-rule measures whereby we pass off individual sectors and do not establish across all of industry and commerce a maximum temperature regime. We need to address the fear that participation in one-sector reviews will mean that other sectors will not be involved, or that there will be delays in involving them. By all means, the union should participate in sector discussions, but not at the expense of wider progress on maximum temperature across industry.
Jonathan Shaw: I am not expecting the unions to change their position, but equally I am pleased that they are willing to engage. I will ensure that my noble Friend Lord McKenzie of Luton is aware of that.
On the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington and other hon. Members, it is not the case that we wanted to avoid this important issue. We want to see a conclusion for the benefit of workers and employers. The current HSE strategy encourages strong leadership and worker involvement. A number of people commented throughout the review that workers need to feel empowered to manage their working environment. However, I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins): a worker's ability to be empowered can vary greatly in terms of the relationship with their employer. I accept that.
John McDonnell: My hon. Friend the Minister has set out-let me be clear about this for the record-the fact that the regulatory report and the impact assessment will go to the HSE board in April and there will be a report to Ministers in May. May I ask my hon. Friend to be clearer about what the process might be after that if the Government determine that they will go along the line of a maximum temperature? What processes are envisaged in that regard? Will there be delegated legislation? What time scale would be envisaged? This campaign has been going on for a long time. Hopes were raised 12 months ago that this issue would be wrapped up by last December and there is disappointment that the matter has dragged out even further.
Jonathan Shaw: I will ensure that my noble Friend Lord McKenzie is aware of the desire for a road map and timetable to be set out to provide some confidence. [Interruption.] I have been handed some inspiration. It would be appropriate to carry out a full 12-week consultation on any proposed amendments. My hon. Friend will be aware that that is in line with Cabinet Office guidelines on good practice. The timetable would be one part of the equation. I will see if my noble Friend is able to set that out in the way described by my hon. Friend.
I understand that there will be a ministerial report by May, a decision by Ministers, then the normal 12 to 13 weeks' statutory consultation on whatever is proposed. It would be useful to know whether delegated legislation would be introduced if a change of regulations is required, whether affirmative or negative resolution in the House would be required, or whether there would be a ministerial signing-off process that might prevent the measure being impeded in any way by attempts to seek parliamentary time.
In summary, there are a significant number of factors to consider. It is a highly complex issue and further work needs to be undertaken. However, it is important that people work in comfortable conditions and that they feel empowered to be able to report concerns. We monitor heat stress, but it is not possible to isolate cases through the RIDDOR structure, as a result of the related matter of people working in confined spaces.
We have recently surveyed HSE field inspectors to gain a better understanding of the work that they do on heat-related incidents. Inspectors consider what action employers have taken, if a complaint is received in respect of an investigation that they are carrying out, and whether they have followed guidance in relation to temperatures, including provision of water, temporary cooling, additional breaks, worker rotation, and so on. It would be feasible to undertake more in-depth, lengthy studies in this area and we will consider doing so.
The Industrial Injuries Advisory Council has reported that to date no research or evidence on the effect of heat at work on certain occupations has been brought to its attention. I think that hon. Members would agree that the evidence base must be established to inform site inspectors' decisions. This informed, measured debate is welcome, and it is in such an atmosphere that we improve the lot of workers in their workplaces. I hope that there can be more debates with the tone of this one, because too often, health and safety is characterised by the "gone mad" argument, which is nothing to do with the HSE. Every year, the HSE publishes its calendar trying to bust the myths, but it does not have the budget to compete with some newspapers that want screaming headlines. I raised the point about Conservative party policy with the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), because it is important that we have such debates in this type of atmosphere. We cannot have a parallel universe operating in which that party's
key spokespersons talk about dramatically removing powers. That is what they said. If what the hon. Member for Hertsmere said this morning is a rowing back from that position, and shows the Conservatives taking a more measured approach, that is entirely welcome. The hon. Gentleman chastised me for making a party political point. I will happily withdraw that remark if he is saying that he will take a more measured, sensible approach to this important issue.
Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): I applied for this debate to highlight the need to increase capacity on our road transport network in south-east London, and our passenger transport network. I acknowledge that there have been some improvements-too many for me to go through in this short debate-but recent events have highlighted that the system teeters on the edge of collapse daily due to demand. The slightest defect in the system has enormous consequences for commuters in delays and congestion.
During the period leading up to Christmas, several events on the roads leading to and in the Blackwall tunnel highlighted the problem. Each event resulted in gridlock for south-east and east London. The impact on the economy and the lives of thousands of people in that area is impossible to calculate. We are all affected, even on the shortest of journeys, because such incidents may cause severe delays.
The recent cold weather exposed the lack of resilience in our rail services, particularly on 6, 7 and 8 January, when services at peak times were reduced to two trains an hour, and the rail service closed down at 8 o'clock in the evening. Southeastern's response did not reflect customers' experience, and certainly not my experience as one of its customers. I was one of the passengers at Eltham station who were left waiting in the freezing cold with no information about what was happening, only to see one train come in so overcrowded that only a few people could force their way on to it from a packed platform. The next train was so packed that it did not even stop. There was no warning for the people waiting on the platform that there would be no opportunity for them to get on the trains. The whole episode smacked of panic, and Southeastern's explanation for what happened between 6 and 8 January was not satisfactory.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): Around 6,000 of my constituents travel to east London to work every day. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the way to tackle the problem on both roads and rail is to increase capacity on the railways, and to enable more carriages to be added to trains by extending platforms and improving the infrastructure? It is time the Government made more investment in that.
Clive Efford: I accept that, and the Government have attempted to do just that. The purpose of this debate is to urge the Minister in a friendly way along that route. I do not accept Southeastern's argument, and the penalties to prevent train operators behaving in that way are not sufficiently severe. Its response to the cold spell suggested that it had not planned for it, and it was not prepared to make any effort to deal with it. The Government's response should be a severe penalty.
The Oyster pay-as-you-go system was introduced in January, and was welcome. It streamlines ticketing between London transport and mainline rail services, but there is a surcharge for using it on Southeastern's trains, which is not paid on other parts of the network that had pay-as-you-go before January. That is unacceptable, and the Government should address the matter.
I should add in response to the intervention from the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) that for a considerable time we have been promised 12-car trains on Southeastern. I have a simple question: when will
they arrive? They have been promised, they are essential to increase capacity, and we need a date for when they will be delivered.
The main commute for my constituents has always been from south-east London to central London, and that will continue to be so, but as docklands, the Olympic park, Stratford and other developments in the east Thames corridor develop, more and more of my constituents will want to go directly north across the river.
Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. He is renowned for fighting strongly for improved public transport for his constituents. The route to docklands is also important for many of my constituents who will travel into his constituency and east London for employment. Is it not important to ensure that Transport for London takes over more transport facilities so that there is a better service? TfL is taking over Norwood Junction station on the East London line into docklands, and we hope that there will be some investment and improvement at that station where the subways, for example, are in a bad condition.
The Mayor of London recently held a consultation on a transport plan for London, to which I responded, and I want to highlight a couple of points that he made in his consultation document. In chapter 5, paragraph 403, he said:
"As the economy of east London has changed, developments such as Canary Wharf, ExCel and The 02 have increased the demand for travel across the river significantly. Many of the large new economic drivers for London are located in east London, with the majority of these lying north of the river, such as the Olympic Park and adjacent Stratford City development, Canary Wharf, ExCel and City Airport. Access to these growing destinations from southeast London can be difficult due to the barrier effect of the Thames."
"However, there are still few road crossings of the Thames in east London, causing difficulties for those who cannot use public transport for their journey, and in particular business journeys.
Drivers are heavily dependent on the congested Blackwall and Rotherhithe tunnels, each of which have restrictions on the size of vehicle which can use them, and the Woolwich Ferry. Beyond London, the Dartford crossing, forming part of the M25 orbital motorway, also regularly operates at, or close to, capacity. There is little resilience in the event of an incident at one of these crossings, and local businesses, particularly in southeast London, suffer from this unreliability. The projected increases in jobs and population in the Thames Gateway will increase the problem of highway congestion and road network resilience at river crossings further. The Mayor is therefore supportive of investigating options for road based river crossings in east London as part of a package of transport improvements."
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