Health and Safety in Scotland


House of COMMONS



 Scottish Affairs Committee

Health and Safety in Scotland  

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Nigel Miller, Scott Walker and Martin Isles

Robert Paterson

Evidence heard in  Public Questions  277 - 446



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Oral Evidence

Taken before the  Scottish Affairs Committee

on  Wednesday 9 November 2011

Members present:

 Mr Ian Davidson (Chair)

Fiona Bruce

Mike Freer

Jim McGovern

Mr Iain McKenzie

Graeme Morrice

David Mowat

Simon Reevell

Mr Alan Reid

Lindsay Roy


 Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Nigel Miller, President, and Scott Walker, Chief Executive, National Farmers Union Scotland; and Martin Isles, Director, Health & Safety, Mineral Products Association, gave evidence.

Q277 Chair : We welcome you to this meeting of the Scottish Affairs Committee that is conducting an investigation into health and safety in Scotland. For the record, it would be helpful if you would introduce yourselves and tell us your positions.

Scott Walker: I am Scott Walker, chief executive of the National Farmers Union of Scotland.

Nigel Miller: I am Nigel Miller, president of NFU Scotland, and a farmer in the Scottish Borders.

Martin Isles: My name is Martin Isles, director of health and safety for the Mineral Products Association, and I am currently president of the Institute of Quarrying.

Q278 Chair: Because we are taking two subjects together, some of the questions will be separate and others will overlap, so we will try to play it as we go. Perhaps I can start off by asking a question of the NFU. The most recent statistics show that 11 out of the 22 workplace fatalities in 2010-11 were in the agricultural sector. What accounts for this appalling statistic?

Nigel Miller: As you say, it is a pretty frightening reflection on our industry. There are fundamental reasons for it. It is a high-risk industry where there tend to be lone workers. Often, businesses may have only one person, or if there is an employee they work alone, which is a high risk. They are often working in difficult conditions affected by weather and issues to do with light; they are using heavy machinery and working with unpredictable livestock. This is not an excuse, but there is a real mix, which means that people are under a lot of pressure and are at considerable risk if they get things wrong.

Q279 Mr Reid: Is farming intrinsically dangerous, or is there something we could do to bring these numbers down?

Scott Walker: There are some intrinsic dangers particularly when you work with animals, which are unpredictable. You are working outside in a variable environment, so at the best of times they are not perfect working conditions. You are also working with heavy machinery. Again, it is not an excuse, but you are working in difficult conditions outside in dark weather. The nature of farming itself is dangerous. That is not a justification for all the accidents. A lot of the justification, when added to that, arises from the fact that a lot of single businesses and individuals employed in them probably overestimate their own ability and underestimate the risks in which they place themselves as individuals.

Nigel Miller: There is a mix of factors in farming which makes it intrinsically dangerous. That mix is not a reason for having this level of fatalities. I do not think anybody could suggest that is a good record. There are cultural issues. Probably I am just as guilty as many farmers in that, being familiar with certain tasks, we think we can get on with the job quickly when maybe we should take a little more care. Those are some of the issues.

One other thing that is probably unique to agriculture is that, often, you are working in your own back yard or next to your own house. Your family may be involved in the business. They may well regard what is a workplace as an area where they could play or have recreation. Some accidents have occurred because of that lack of separation. That is a reality of which we must all be aware. That may be a rather unique part of farming, but there are cultural issues and things we have to address.

The other frightening thing is that probably reporting is not as good as it should be. We have these horrific headline statistics, but under them there is a level of injuries, certainly those involving livestock, which probably is not reported because there are no employees, and somebody who is selfemployed just gets on with the job; they know they have to keep working. There is also a fear factor, in that, if they do report, their business comes under investigation. That is a disincentive, which is not good, because it means we do not have the whole picture of what is happening on farms.

Q280 Mr Reid: Is there any common theme that runs through these 11 fatalities?

Nigel Miller: Over a good number of years the two areas of real concern involve moving machinery. It may be fork lifts and tractors but also ATVs, which are four-wheel motorcycles used for checking and feeding livestock. Both are significant issues. Another area is working on roofs. A lot of steadings use sheeted roofs, some of which are fragile, and they are accessed at times of the year when they are slippery or there are leaves on them, maybe in difficult conditions and with sub-optimal equipment. People either falling through or off roofs is an issue.

Q281 Mr Reid: As a householder, I know that when I get somebody out to repair my roof there are all sorts of scaffolding, and there are rules that they have to follow. Do these same rules apply to your members or farmers in general?

Nigel Miller: They certainly do if you have employees. In theory, they should apply if you are self-employed, but a lot of people who are self-employed would not apply the same systems of scaffolding, supports or safety equipment as they would if they had an employee. This is an issue.

Q282 Mr Reid: What percentage of your members are self-employed?

Scott Walker: It is difficult to get exact percentage figures because the statistics are not gathered in that way, but I suspect that for the vast majority of farms either the farmer himself or family labour is involved. A minority of farms have employed labour. A lot of farms that have to bring in outside labour use contractors on an individual basis to do an individual task. Speaking to these individuals about how they perceive the risk for those contractors, they see it as being far higher than if they undertook the job themselves. If they brought in a contractor to do a job, they would expect, as Nigel said, the contractor to provide the safety equipment and to approach the job in the correct manner, whereas, if they tried to tackle it themselves as a farmer, they would probably not have the same perception of the risk associated with it.

Q283 Mr Reid: Has there been any pattern arising out of the fatalities? Do they tend to be people working on their own and self-employed, as opposed to employees or people working in a team?

Nigel Miller: Some of the machinery accidents have definitely become fatalities because they were sole workers and no one was there. There have been instances of people getting entangled in forage or feeder wagons. If someone had been there, it would have been switched off. People have been crushed by fork lifts. They engaged the gear when they were working in front of the fork lift, and there was no one there to release them. Therefore, sole working is an issue.

Q284 David Mowat: Does the NFU collect any statistics showing the comparison between Scotland and England? Farming is a dangerous industry. Is it equally dangerous in both countries?

Nigel Miller: Pretty much so. There is a slight bias. In some of the regions of Scotland it is slightly worse, but I do not think it is statistically significant. The fatalities and major accidents are probably quite well recorded, but I would not have a lot of faith in statistics that demonstrate the lower level of accidents, which can be quite severe. For example, fractured arms, severe cuts on arms, or back damage are probably not reported often.

Scott Walker: A few years ago we tried to gather evidence about unreported incidents, particularly working with livestock and to do with the clipping of livestock before they were sent to market. Anecdotally, speaking to farmers, you hear about a lot of accidents on the farm where individuals are perhaps unable to work for a couple of days, or they suffer a strain or something that makes it difficult for them to work. We do not believe they report that to the Health & Safety Executive. We did a survey to try to gather information on the level of unreported accidents. Whereas we have accurate data with regard to fatalities on farms, there is probably a significant level of low-level accidents that perhaps do not need a doctor’s intervention, or even if they do, are not properly recorded.

Q285 David Mowat: You made a comment about contractors. Do you have evidence that for a given type of task a contractor is likely to have a better safety record than the farmer himself? Do you ever look at it that way?

Nigel Miller: I suspect that is the reality, but I do not have statistics to demonstrate it.

Chair: Presumably, the contractor coming on to the farm will be bound by the same regulations that would apply if they worked elsewhere, whereas the self-employed farmer in particular would be prey to the same sort of difficulties experienced by the self-employed in the building industry, and we understand that.

Q286 Lindsay Roy: I want to put some questions to Martin about quarrying and excavation. First, how good are your statistics on fatalities and serious injuries in the quarrying industry? Can you give us details over the last four or five years?

Martin Isles: We have kept detailed statistics for probably 11 years now. For the period 2000 to 2009, for direct employees, we saw an 83% reduction in the number of injuries reportable to the Health & Safety Executive. It is fair to say that our industry had an inglorious past; it used to be a very dangerous one. We now consider ourselves to be high hazard and much lower risk. We place a lot of emphasis on trying to get people to understand the difference between hazard and risk. Basically, a risk is an uncontrolled hazard.

Q287 Lindsay Roy: That is impressive in the reduction of reportable incidents.

Martin Isles: It is, but we are at a level where we still-

Q288 Lindsay Roy: To go back to fatalities and serious injuries recorded over the last five years, can you give us that information? If you cannot provide it now, will you send it to us?

Martin Isles: Yes. [1] We look at it from within the footprint of our trade association. What I can say is that the contractors account for almost exactly two thirds of that total of fatalities, which we believe is disproportionate to the number of contractors in the industry.

Q289 Lindsay Roy: These are subcontractors subcontracting within a quarry area.

Martin Isles: Yes. We consider two types of contractors. We have the permanent contractor who may be doing the same work as a regular direct employee; it is just that the company has decided to subcontract that aspect of the work out to a contractor. They work alongside the permanent employees maybe for 40 or 48 hours, whatever the number of hours per week. You then have the temporary contractors who come in to do a specific job. That may last for two hours, two days or two weeks, and then they are gone and you do not see them for days, weeks, or even months.

Q290 Lindsay Roy: What has been done to try to improve the situation with subcontractors, given that pattern and that two thirds are involved in these serious injuries?

Martin Isles: I do not have statistical evidence, but I preface my answer by saying that the industry contracts out some of the more hazardous duties. That has been the case quite often in the past. What are we doing about it? First, we are looking at the whole issue. Currently, it is probably our number one issue within the industry, because of the figures I have just talked about. We are looking at competence. We have been challenged by the Health & Safety Executive to develop a fully competency-assured industry for everyone involved, not just direct employees but also contractors. Contractors are the more difficult aspect of it, for the reasons I have already mentioned. They are less easy to access, to get to, and communicate with, because some are there for only short periods, but the big issue for us is competence.

Q291 Lindsay Roy: Is that work ongoing?

Martin Isles: It is ongoing. We have an initiative that we call Safer by Competence. It has a series of deadlines, ranging from the back end of 2010 through to 2017, to cover everyone in our industry and enable them to do two things: first, to achieve and demonstrate competence by meeting the relevant national occupational standards, which will be our benchmark; and, second, to prove continuing competence by CPD-continuing professional development.

Q292 Lindsay Roy: 2017 seems a long way away.

Martin Isles: It is. Some of these cohorts of people are within next year and the year after; it is a range that goes right through.

Q293 Lindsay Roy: Are these the less challenging targets?

Martin Isles: The more challenging cohorts are the longer-term parts of this. The ones that we have better control of we feel we can achieve by 2012-13. The contractor element is, admittedly, more challenging and difficult, and, being realistic, that is going to take longer, but we have set ourselves targets of 100% to achieve.

Q294 Lindsay Roy: Is there a great deal of cooperation with the contractors?

Martin Isles: Yes, and with all our members. It has just been approved by the board.

Q295 Lindsay Roy: Would you say there has been a cultural change?

Martin Isles: There is, and it is continuing. We are not there yet by any means, but we have a set target ahead of us.

Q296 Lindsay Roy: I take it you share some characteristics with agriculture in terms of isolation and mechanisation. Are there other real dangers in the occupation of quarrying and the services involved in it?

Martin Isles: As far as quarrying goes, it is probably interaction with vehicles. We have very large vehicles working in the industry. If you are talking about quarrying in its true sense, MPA represents quarrying for aggregates and construction-type materials, but it also includes opencast coal quarrying. It is just the quarrying of coal as opposed to stone. In that case the vehicles are even bigger, and they have a lot more of them.

Q297 Lindsay Roy: Are there special challenges when blasting is involved?

Martin Isles: For sure. Having said that, blasting is one of the safest activities. Yes, it is a very high hazard, but it is extremely well controlled. I am not aware of any blasting issues in terms of injuries to people at all. We have issues sometimes with some of the equipment that is used in blasting in terms of detonators and explosives.

Q298 Lindsay Roy: Is there a minimum threshold beyond which people cannot engage in blasting; for example, a distance from residential properties?

Martin Isles: Yes, for sure. That is all controlled extremely tightly by planning conditions.

Q299 Lindsay Roy: Do you have an idea what the distance is?

Martin Isles: Generally speaking, it would be in the region of 250plus metres. As far as concerns impact on the public, there are two aspects to blasting: the air overpressure, which is a function of the total amount of explosives used in the blast, and the ground vibration-if you like, the seismic effect-which is proportional to the maximum instantaneous charge. When you have a blast you do not let it all off in one hit; it may take half a second or even a couple of seconds to go through.

Q300 Lindsay Roy: Has the threshold changed recently from 500 metres to 250 metres, or has it been 250 metres for some time?

Martin Isles: It varies from site to site and county to county. I am not aware there is a national standard.

Q301 Lindsay Roy: According to what? What are the criteria?

Martin Isles: It is very much down to the socio-geographic circumstances of the quarry. Not all quarries blast. Obviously, it applies only to the rock quarries. Sand and gravel quarries do not blast; and a lot of aggregates are produced from offshore marine activities.

Q302 Lindsay Roy: Blasting for dolerite, for example, would be different.

Martin Isles: Any limestone, dolerite, basalt or granite, and sandstone, would be blasted.

Q303 Lindsay Roy: But there is no uniform standard across the country.

Martin Isles: For the stand-off from properties, I am not aware there is. I believe there are guidelines as to what should be the minimum. A company will want as big a distance as possible.

Q304 Lindsay Roy: Will you check that and provide some evidence to the Committee on that particular point?

Martin Isles: I certainly can do that. [2]

Q305 Chair: Listening to both of you, it is interesting to hear the relationship between contractors and principals, as it were. In quarrying, the principals seem to be more safety conscious, have a better record and the problem is with subcontractors, whereas it is exactly the other way about with farmers. I would have thought that, in quarrying, you, as the principals, would have such a tough set of rules governing contractors for whom you would be responsible that the accident statistics among contractors would be much more tightly controlled.

Martin Isles: As concerns quarrying, if you are working within the curtilage of a quarry, the person who is effectively the quarry manager-a clause 8(1)(c) manager, to quote the regulations-is responsible for everyone on site. So a visitor, a contractor, a direct employee are all treated the same.

Q306 Chair: That is right. Therefore, is there an issue about quarry management not applying sufficiently strict rules to the contractors?

Martin Isles: I think there is improvement to be made.

Q307 Chair: That is a yes then, is it?

Martin Isles: I think there are circumstances when there have been situations where improvements could be made in that respect. We have revised the contractor safety passport scheme, for instance.

Q308 Chair: This is similar to what we hear sometimes about construction sites. People coming on to a site are more accident-prone, because those directly responsible for the site as a whole have not been exercising the same supervision of the people coming on to the site as they have of their own work force. It seems to me that is something almost entirely within your control and that the rules you apply are insufficiently strict. I am not convinced from what you are saying that you are taking that element of this particularly seriously.

Martin Isles: The majority of the contractors are what I would class as permanent ones; it may be a load and haul aspect within a quarry. The companies in membership of the MPA treat those exactly the same as direct employees, so they will be controlled in the same way as a direct employee. Where issues have arisen in the past they have involved more casual contractors, shall we say, coming in to do a specific short-term task. It might be a short repair for a couple of hours or a couple of days. Some of these contractors have carried a card which says, for instance, that they are permitted to drive a dump truck. That might be a construction card and the vehicle might be a 5-tonne dump truck, and they are being asked or expected to drive maybe a 50-tonne dump truck, which is a much bigger machine, in a quarry environment. The challenge we give our members is to say, "You have the responsibility to ensure that that person, irrespective of the card they may or may not carry, is competent and you are satisfied that that person understands the environment in which they are working."

Q309 Chair: I think what you are saying to us is that your industry has been slipshod in supervising contractors in some circumstances.

Martin Isles: I refute that we have been slipshod.

Q310 Chair: You have just indicated that sometimes people coming in with certification might not have certification that is exactly appropriate to the task they are asked to undertake.

Martin Isles: In those circumstances, the quarry manager has the duty to make sure he inducts that person to the requisite standard.

Q311 Chair: Clearly, it has not been happening; otherwise, we would not have these statistics.

Martin Isles: Well, human nature and the factors that have been mentioned before also come into the cultural aspects of it. It is an open-air environment; it can be in all weathers; you are dealing with heavy plant and equipment, and it is a challenge to make sure that people are aware.

Q312 Chair: We have heard this before from other people. We appreciate and understand that it is a challenge, but presumably these things are taken into account. It is a bit like the railways finding that every winter it snows. These are not unexpected occurrences.

Martin Isles: To make one comment, we looked at a 30-month period up to the middle of this year. During that period, in Scotland, only three contractor injuries were reported. I think that puts it into context.

Q313 Chair: Did these incidents involve deaths?

Martin Isles: No. These were reportable injuries.

Q314 David Mowat: I have an observation about contractors. I do not know your industry, but the oil industry uses a lot of contractors who typically perform the most dangerous roles. Drilling is done by contractors in the oil industry and that is more dangerous than working in the finance department, so on the basis of a headcount there will be more issues with the contractors. Is that similar to the situation in quarrying? Are there certain operational-type roles that are typically always contracted out and that is where the accidents tend to occur, or is that not a good analogy?

Martin Isles: If you are looking at Scotland, the evidence is that if you are a contractor, you are safer than if you are a direct employee.

Q315 David Mowat: That was not what you said initially.

Martin Isles: No, it is not, because the evidence overall for GB is the other way round. We have some evidence, which admittedly is slightly conflicting, that in England and Wales you are less likely, if you are a direct employee, to have a reportable incident than if you are a contractor. The reverse of that on our own basis is the situation in Scotland. All I can say is that in Scotland our industry has a much higher percentage of smaller companies which do not contract out to the same extent as the large multinationals. I cannot think of any other reason why that is the case.

Q316 Lindsay Roy: What concrete evidence can you give us about cultural change and things that have brought about improvement in relationships among quarry owners, main contractors and subcontractors?

Martin Isles: The thing that has impressed me most is the attitude of the man or woman at the top-the chief executive. Those people now are genuinely putting health and safety as the number one issue at all their meetings. They are using, for instance, visible felt leadership. A senior manager or owner will go round a site and spend some time talking and explaining to everybody, and will be there to listen and basically give an assurance that if a person on site has a health and safety concern, they will be listened to and something will be done. Looking back 10, 20 years or whatever, there was the thought, "Well, we won’t mention that because, first, nothing will be done, and, second, we might be accused of stirring up trouble." That is a cultural change; that is now history. The macho image of the industry has all but gone.

Q317 Lindsay Roy: Do you have hard evidence of that?

Martin Isles: We have; we keep records of it.

Q318 Lindsay Roy: Whose responsibility is it to enforce operational times for the working of quarries, particularly where there are heavy loads going in and out or blasting is occurring?

Martin Isles: Times of working?

Q319 Lindsay Roy: The operational times.

Martin Isles: The operational times are invariably controlled by planning conditions.

Q320 Lindsay Roy: Planning conditions from the local authority.

Martin Isles: The local authority; that is right.

Q321 Lindsay Roy: If there is a breach-for example, work starts at 7 instead of 8 o’clock-it is up to the local authority to take action.

Martin Isles: Yes, very much so, and we would support them in doing that because the industry wants to put forward a responsible face. We provide materials for society’s benefit and feel that we are part of the community. As much as agriculture, it is a rural industry.

Q322 Lindsay Roy: At the present time, are you aware of any breaches that have been reported to you?

Martin Isles: Personally, no, but I am aware, for instance, that there are uncontrolled quarries that are not members of our association, or any association. I hear on good authority that there are one or two in Scotland, for instance, which the local authorities and the Health & Safety Executive do not know about.

Q323 Lindsay Roy: If a local authority does know and has not done anything about it, that is a dereliction of duty.

Martin Isles: That is for them to decide, but it would probably be the case.

Q324 Chair: To be clear, are you saying to us that there are quarries in Scotland that the local authority and the Health & Safety Executive do not know about?

Martin Isles: A video appeared on one website, YouTube or whatever, showing a quarry that was not recorded, apparently. This was some years ago. Whether that is still the case now, I do not know. We have a very good relationship with the Health & Safety Executive.

Q325 Chair: I just wanted to clarify that there are no examples of quarrying in Scotland currently of which you are aware and nobody else knows about.

Martin Isles: I am not personally aware of anything currently.

Q326 Chair: Obviously, that causes some concern.

Martin Isles: But it has been the case in the past.

Q327 Lindsay Roy: There are also other issues about fencing off quarries to deny access to the public.

Martin Isles: Yes.

Q328 Lindsay Roy: Presumably, that responsibility rests with the quarry owner.

Martin Isles: Very much so. Fencing is an issue on which there are guidelines. They are being revised at the moment. We have duties to prevent "inadvertent access", which is the phrase that is used. If somebody is determined to get into a quarry-there are such people-they will cut through. We have had incidents of people attaching four-by-four vehicles to six-foot high palisade fencing, tearing it down and driving in. We want to do everything reasonable to prevent it. We have signs there. If those signs or the fencing are damaged, we encourage our companies not only to record it but to video it or photograph the repair and time it, and inform the local authority that it has been done.

Q329 Lindsay Roy: How proactive is the Health & Safety Executive in monitoring what is happening in quarries?

Martin Isles: Very much so. One of our concerns for the future is that maybe the proportion of proactive inspections may be reduced.

Q330 Lindsay Roy: That would be a concern.

Martin Isles: It would be a concern. I do not know whether you are aware of the FOILE initiative: Field Operations Involving Large Employers. That is a co-operative venture between larger employers and the HSE. The whole thing is very much proactive and is thought of very highly by both the HSE and the companies involved.

Q331 Mr Reid: My question is for Nigel and Scott. In his evidence, Martin referred to the fact that the man at the top would be responsible for the whole site and that the improvements in health and safety had been brought about by that individual questioning contractors. In a self-employed situation where the man at the top is the only man, how do we get the message across about improving safety at work in that type of culture?

Nigel Miller: There is a cultural shift and also a shift in standards. The latter is easier to do because it is a physical thing; you can demonstrate whether it is there or not. Certainly, in terms of equipment in my lifetime there has been a revolution in quality, the level of guarding, the design of switches, PTOs and safety mechanisms. They are way beyond what we ever had. That has moved quite well. What we have not achieved, and maybe to a degree we should shoulder some of the blame as well as the HSE, is a change in the mindset. A change is probably needed so that every day you are willing to take that extra effort to get that risk out of operations.

If you look at the accident profiles, at times definitely people probably cut corners. That is the reality. At other times, there are specific tasks with livestock that are time-related. If you have to intervene at a calving, or you have to take milk out in the field by yourself to a young calf that is not suckling, you are taking a risk. If you do not do it, you are probably not safeguarding animal welfare; you are certainly putting the livestock in danger. The reality is that, if you go in there, you may not get away with it. Injuries like that happen all the time. There are things that we can control, and by changing the mindset you can avoid risk situations that you should not get into with machinery; there are ways we can engineer that. There are three approaches.

I think we have failed on the mindset, and maybe there is a bigger role for the union to play by putting on demonstrations, giving advice in a targeted way and having good statistics on things going wrong. Maybe we should involve machinery manufacturers to ensure we make the most of the safety features on machines. One reason farmers or the self-employed are at greater risk than contractors is that the latter tend to be specialists in particular tasks; they are very familiar with those tasks. They have the best machinery and are highly trained, and they are chosen because of that. They are highly professional. Most farmers are doing all sorts of totally different tasks from day to day. They do not have the same specialist skills and maybe not the same standard of equipment, and often they are working alone. We have to try to focus on that area.

Q332 Mr Reid: Have you noticed any change over time? Has there been any improvement in the cultural approach to health and safety?

Nigel Miller: There definitely has. There are areas where training has had an impact, such as on the use and maintenance of ATVs. Maintenance as far as concerns tyre pressures, tyre grip and brakes is crucial, and that has hugely improved. That was a real risk area. Some of the cattle-handling systems we now have are very good and people are good at using them. There has been a big improvement. There is also now an acceptance of the requirement to have training on the use of fork lifts and heavy diggers. Again, that raised the bar. There are also requirements for maintenance and inspection standards for those machines to ensure they do not have hydraulic failures. A lot of things have improved, but we still have that statistic.

Q333 Mr Reid: Is there any evidence that the younger generation of farmers are any more receptive than older farmers?

Nigel Miller: The statistics tend to show that when you get to my age and older you are less quick, so you have accidents. When you are very young, you think you are wonderful and invincible. You take risks and have accidents.

Graeme Morrice: I know the problem.

Nigel Miller: There are some boring people in between who actually get it right.

Scott Walker: In terms of dealing with livestock, for instance, if you are young you can move more quickly and, therefore, are more likely to avoid a hoof that kicks out compared with older people who work in the industry. For individuals who go through colleges and get training in health and safety, it tends to be a far more focused element of the training they receive. Therefore, that is drilled down. There is a very old age profile within the industry. A lot of individuals have been working on farms for 30-plus years and in some circumstances 50-plus years. As always, it becomes very difficult to tell them that they should adopt new and proper techniques going forward.

Q334 Mr Reid: What role is the Health & Safety Executive performing in educating people?

Nigel Miller: The Health & Safety Executive have a real challenge in making that one-to-one contact with the industry, because it is so disparate. In Scotland there are 20,000-odd holdings. Some of those will be multiple holdings; several will be in one business, but we have almost 9,000 members, which gives you an idea of the number of people you have to reach. The cost of doing that is extraordinarily high. The approach in recent years has been to use demonstration sites with a circuit of risk areas. You go round and try to touch a group of farmers in a region or locality in one day and cover a spectrum of issues. The demonstrations and quality of the instructors are very good. It sounds a bit dull, but it is pretty good. In recent years funding for that has become tight, so that sort of approach is also possibly at risk.

Q335 Mr Reid: Do you think this has been an effective campaign? Would you be worried if it was cut back?

Nigel Miller: Looking at the statistics, one would be concerned by any cutback in the interaction between the industry and health and safety. When I was younger we got unannounced and periodic inspections. That really does not happen now; you get inspections only if there has been an accident. That is not particularly good either, because it breaks down the relationship and communication with an inspector. He will draw attention to things and maybe ask for things to be done, but it is done in a preventive rather than retrospective way when something has gone wrong.

Q336 Mr Reid: Would you like to see more of these unannounced inspections?

Nigel Miller: We would certainly like an ongoing collaborative relationship with the Health & Safety Executive. At the moment, it looks as if costs will be a real issue. If so, it may well be that the union itself can take on some of the role as concerns facilitating demonstration sites and funding them at a regional level to make sure that that form of education is ongoing. To us, the ideal is definitely to have periodic inspections in a collaborative and educational way and also demonstrations. At the moment, the cost issues of doing that seem to be difficult.

Scott Walker: I am not convinced that inspections by themselves will drive a cultural change, just because of the number of farms out there and the lack of ability, in terms of the health and safety inspectorate, to get round to those farms. I think the awareness days and targeted campaigns are also useful. For instance, last winter, because of the amount of snow that fell on farm roofs and was not blown away by the wind, a lot of our members said they got on to roofs with shovels or brushes to try to clear it before buildings collapsed. The first thing we did was make sure we put out messages in the agricultural press to point out that that was a dangerous activity. To you and me sitting here today, it seems obvious that it is a dangerous activity, but sometimes individuals who see all that snow are not aware of it until somebody points it out. We need to see targeted campaigns at specific times of the year that tie in with the type of agricultural activity taking place on the ground, so it brings very much to the forefront of the mind of the self-employed that the activities in which they are engaged are dangerous but also points to alternatives to protect themselves.

Q337 Lindsay Roy: Am I not right that one strategy that has been used is to engage farmers themselves who have credibility in health and safety practice to share effective practice with others and invite people along to these demonstrations? One way is to target the recalcitrant ones who continually refuse to come along. Is that not part of the approach?

Nigel Miller: It certainly has been as far as demonstrations go. There has been an implicit contract that those who are not willing to engage and take part in best practice may be open to inspection or some review of their business.

Q338 Chair: Nigel, I remember that when we discussed this informally you identified a lot of good things that were being done, but the problem was reaching those who in a sense did not want to be reached. Have you been able to reflect on that, and has the union identified ways in which the equivalent of the unclubbable, as it were, could be reached by clubs-not literally by clubs, but in the same way that bad boys and girls do not go to youth clubs, even though they might be designed for them? We often find that material is picked up by those who are already interested in it and are aware of it, and who do not have a macho attitude. It is just a question of whether or not you have identified any particular ways we could help you to reach those who are difficult.

Nigel Miller: This is not just an issue of health and safety. It is an issue in quite a lot of areas in which we are interested. How do you reach 100%? The reality is that we do not. We probably reach 60%, and we reach them repeatedly. We get a few more sometimes, and there is another tranche we just do not touch. We have to get smarter about that. In terms of health and safety, you are working in conjunction with machinery dealers and distributors. There is a road in there to focus on businesses that are not in contact when they purchase new machinery. Maybe there are other events that attract people, whether they are markets or technical demonstrations, where you can try to contact people at that point.

Q339 Chair: What percentage of your members do you think you are not reaching? Are we talking of only 5% or 10% or, as you mentioned earlier, do you reach 60%? I do not have a feel for the scale of the unreachables.

Nigel Miller: In contact terms, we will have contact with every member to a level. They would not pay subscriptions and they might ignore everything we do. We turn out technical bulletins and updates on political events, but there is also a monthly magazine that has a health and safety section in it. That touches everybody, but I do not think that is an adequate engagement to change culture. The percentage of the membership we are sufficiently close to that may come to on-farm events, which probably give us the best chance to change culture, is about 60%.

Scott Walker: It is a matter of giving people lots of different avenues in which to engage. The one thing farmers do like is looking at another farm-getting on somebody else’s farm to see what they are doing and how they can learn. As an organisation going forward, when we do on-farm events, can we build a health and safety element into those? Can we get machinery dealers tied into that, because, again, farmers like to see what new pieces of equipment are coming out? How could those pieces of equipment perhaps make their jobs better? It would give us a better penetration rate, but exactly how many people are really engaged in health and safety at this moment is a guestimate rather than any figure we can give.

Lindsay Roy: I say in jest that perhaps you should contact Heineken, who say they reach the parts others cannot reach.

Chair: But presumably we do not want to encourage them to drink and drive on the job.

Lindsay Roy: Not drinking on the job.

Chair: Exactly.

Q340 Fiona Bruce: I want to go back to data collection. Mr Walker and Mr Miller, am I right in understanding that the NFU does not systematically collect data regarding injuries?

Nigel Miller: No, we do not.

Q341 Fiona Bruce: Again, am I correct in understanding from what you said about the HSE data that, while the fatalities are clearly reported, low-level injuries are not recorded in any reliable way, mainly because they are not reported to a large extent?

Scott Walker: Yes. Anecdotally, from speaking to individual members I believe that to be the case.

Q342 Fiona Bruce: What about what might be called intermediate or major injuries? First, I am interested to know what type of major injuries in agriculture you think are common. What do you think is the level of reporting there?

Scott Walker: I do not know how HSE classify a major injury. Personally, I would regard a major injury, though not exclusively, as a broken bone or a lost limb-you see a number of farmers who have lost a finger in doing certain activities-or where hospital treatment or a visit to the doctor is required. That is my definition. To get a feeling for the numbers not reported is very difficult. Because individuals are self-employed, if they go to a doctor, they will say that the injury happened at their home or place of work. As Nigel said, the distinction between home and place of work is mixed in an individual’s mind, so anecdotally, I think, currently the numbers are under-reported.

Nigel Miller: There have been two particular areas of interest where injuries were not being reported. One involves people tagging calves. You have to tag them before they are 27 days old and you are exposed to perhaps a fairly unhappy mother when you are tagging it. Another area is when you are clipping animals prior to slaughter. We did small, snapshot surveys. Over those periods we turned up tens of people who were reporting injuries to us. At that time none of those injuries would have been reported to the Health & Safety Executive.

Q343 Fiona Bruce: The evidence of the National Audit Office suggests that nearly half of all non-fatal accidents go unreported. Would you think that is a reasonable estimate?

Nigel Miller: I would regard that as conservative in agriculture.

Scott Walker: I would think it is an underestimation of what takes place in agriculture.

Q344 Fiona Bruce: Obviously, the HSE can target resources only if they have accurate data. Is it right that you are telling us that there is not adequate accurate data on any type of accident?

Nigel Miller: On fatalities there is.

Q345 Fiona Bruce: Apart from fatalities.

Nigel Miller: But when you get to the lower level there is not good data; that’s for sure. I do not think anybody has good data.

Q346 Fiona Bruce: Do you think that if your members were injured and went to hospital the NHS should pass the details along to the HSE, or would it deter even more from perhaps going for treatment?

Scott Walker: My concern is that it may deter individuals. Many of these businesses are on a knife edge financially. Therefore, if they felt their information was being reported back to HSE, which would trigger an inspection and then potential costs associated with it, you would discourage some individuals-I do not know how many-from seeking medical treatment, or you would be encouraging individuals not necessarily to tell the whole truth when they seek medical treatment. Again, you would not necessarily get an accurate snapshot of what is actually happening.

Q347 Chair: Presumably, that would depend to some extent on the nature of the information collected. I remember statistics being collated from hospitals on knife crime. It found there were many more incidents of knife attacks being reported to hospitals than to the police, which gave a very different picture. They did not then follow up the individuals but they used the overall figures. Presumably, if the statistics were anonymised, you would not have difficulty with it. If it gave a better pattern or level of information, for example, if they were all hand injuries, or something similar, on farms, that would be helpful. You would not particularly object to that, would you?

Nigel Miller: I would be supportive of that because it would, hopefully, for the first time open the door to getting good stats collected.

Scott Walker: In addition, there could be a role, for instance, for NFU Scotland in our members reporting incidents to us in order that we could perhaps target on-farm events or awareness campaigns, but there would have to be confidence among our membership that that information, in terms of discussions we would have with HSE, would be used in the manner it was gathered, to target campaigns rather than individual inspections.

Q348 Chair: Have you had any dialogue with the Scottish Government or the NHS about anything like that at all?

Scott Walker: I have to say no; certainly, in my time we have not had any dialogue on those matters.

Q349 Chair: Maybe that is something we will pick up. As to contact with other people, the trade unions are not as involved in agriculture as they are in some other areas. Could you clarify for me the nature of the dialogue and relationship with what used to be the agricultural section of the T&G, which I presume is now part of Unite?

Scott Walker: We have some dialogue with Unite the Union, but it is not extensive. The dialogue we have tends to be in regard to the Agricultural Wages Order and the minimum rates of pay for agricultural workers and the general terms and conditions that operate under it. We have dialogue with Unite on other matters.

Chair: In trying to reach people who might not otherwise be reached, liaising with the union would seem to be a potential in some cases.

Q350 Jim McGovern: I have been a member of a trade union since the early ’70s and am pretty well aware of what sort of protection and benefits that gives me. How does membership of the NFU benefit its members, and what sort of subs do they pay? Is it based on income or is it a fixed sum?

Scott Walker: To deal with subscription first, it is based on the quantity and quality of land an individual member has. Our minimum subscription is £66 and our maximum is capped at £1,200. That is decided by the membership as a whole.

Q351 Jim McGovern: I assume annually.

Scott Walker: Annually, yes. It is seen as a fair reflection of the income and activities derived from the farm and, therefore, the benefits the member gets from NFU Scotland. As to key benefits for members of NFU Scotland, I will break them down into a few areas. The first is that it is a voice for the industry that can speak to a distinguished group such as this Committee and a voice that speaks in the media.

Q352 Chair: Let me just tell you that flattery always works. If you want to do a little more, then feel free.

Scott Walker: It is a voice that speaks to the media and on behalf of the agricultural sector. We are also looking at it as a lobbying voice in terms of affecting the legislation that comes from Europe, the Scottish and UK Government, and also within the supply chain. We try to get the best deal for our members, whether that is with retailers or the trade that supplies farmers. There is a whole host of different elements. I would be happy to make a full presentation at some time about the benefits of union membership. I would open it up to any member of this Committee who would like to join as an associate member of NFU Scotland. You would enjoy it.

Q353 Jim McGovern: If it was a recognised trade union I would be quite happy to, but is it a trade union as I know trade unions?

Scott Walker: Not as I would typically think of a trade union; it is more akin to the CBI in that sense.

Q354 Jim McGovern: Bosses rather than workers.

Scott Walker: Yes, but in saying that, most of our members are self-employed, so the individual who owns the business and the person who does the work is one and the same.

Chair: It is a bit like the Law Society, in the sense of being a conspiracy against the public. Perhaps that is a fairer way of putting it.

Q355 Graeme Morrice: My question is to Scott and Nigel. How do you think the proposed cuts in the Health & Safety Executive’s budget and staffing will affect the relationship between HSE and your members?

Nigel Miller: Probably what has focused our minds most has been the drive to full cost recovery and the way the charging mechanism would work. It appears to be a disincentive for farmers to have inspectors on farm and to be open and collaborative, and it is disproportionate. We believe that funding is required and that Health & Safety have a key role in industry. There is a challenge for us to open doors to make that happen. Our concerns are probably about the charging mechanism and the possibility of reduced interaction between Health & Safety and our members. Under the present spending round or climate, there is probably a role for our organisation to invest some money in this area.

Scott Walker: For me, one of the big concerns is that enforcement is important and it has to be done, but it is about awareness-raising in the first place to avoid the incidents. My concern would be that as the HSE budget becomes tighter and there are fewer people on the ground to do jobs, we do not have the raising of awareness that is vital in trying to get a cultural shift in agriculture. So we do not have training days taking place in the agricultural industry and there is no engagement between the HSE and an organisation such as ours in order to say, "What can we do to raise awareness within our membership about the dangers they face in the workplace?"

Q356 Graeme Morrice: Perhaps I may put the same question to Martin.

Martin Isles: We are certainly concerned about the future in that respect. There are opportunities within the HSE for them to make better use of their specialist resources. The quarrying sector was controlled, as it happens, from HSE Scotland. I believe you had before you Dr Paul Stollard, who was basically in charge of the quarrying industry from that point of view. It is now moving into construction. From that point of view, it will be a welcome change, not for any negative reason about the previous arrangements, but for the positive view that construction activities have a number of issues that overlap with what we do in quarrying. If you have, say, a tunnelling expert in construction, some of their geotechnical knowledge can be of use to inspectors who wish to have that expertise in quarrying. There are additional synergies potentially there. I know HSE have been looking to minimise the reduction of front-line troops and, if you like, the reduction will be perhaps in more back office-type functions, as I understand it, but it is a concern to us.

Q357 Graeme Morrice: The Government have said they want to reduce the number of inspections by about a third and focus on high-risk industries. Do you think that will mean a reduction in inspections in your sectors? If so, is it not a bit odd considering that agriculture and quarrying are two of the priorities for the Health & Safety Executive in Scotland?

Scott Walker: At present, the number of unannounced inspections in Scotland that take place on farm is minuscule. To reduce it further would make absolutely no sense given the amount of risk we see on farms. I also do not think that is the central point in trying to improve health and safety within agriculture.

Q358 Jim McGovern: If it is minuscule now and you envisage a reduction, what will it be in the future?

Scott Walker: I do not know where they will focus their activities, but it makes no sense to me to reduce the number of activities in agriculture. Agriculture has a terrible record and we need to improve it. If you look at HSE’s future budgets, they need to focus on the key areas. With regard to some of the campaigns they run, they may be deemed to be very good and effective in the sense that they win awards, but are they changing the attitude of people on the ground? Are they working for the audience to which they are trying to deliver-farmers? What gets farmers engaged? If HSE have a limited budget, I would like them to do more work with NFU Scotland and other organisations on the ground. How can we pool resources and deliver something better? Generally speaking, when a fatality or serious accident happens in agriculture, that is one of our members and that is terrible for us. People know those individuals on the ground. A family is left devastated at the end of the day. We very much want to work with HSE and whatever resources they have left in the future.

Q359 Chair: Surely, there is dialogue between you and HSE at the moment about what should be targeted; presumably they don’t just do random inspections. I remember the statistics about random police patrols that were likely to catch a burglar once every 27 years, and you, therefore, had to target it. Presumably, you have that dialogue with HSE.

Scott Walker: We have some dialogue with HSE but not as much as I would like to have. In particular, I do not think that some of the campaigns they run are the most effective way to engage with farmers on the ground to make a difference.

Q360 Chair: Have you told them this?

Scott Walker: Yes.

Q361 Chair: What response did you get?

Scott Walker: It is difficult; I do not want to put words into the HSE’s mouth. I think they recognise that, but they have to work within a system of Government procurement and how they award these campaigns to different agencies. I think that sometimes there is separation between their front-line staff and some of the back office and how the whole system is integrated.

Q362 Chair: How often would you, as chief executive, see somebody from HSE, or would that be somebody else’s job?

Scott Walker: I have been in this position for only eight weeks.

Q363 Chair: You have not picked it up as a priority yet. Is that what you are saying?

Scott Walker: Within this eight-week period I have spoken to the HSE once. Just now our main activity with HSE is about trying to co-ordinate what we do through our magazine Scottish Farming Leader, which goes out to all our members, trying to tie in with them and get a breakdown from them as to the statistics and where accidents are happening so that we can target messages to try to avoid those accidents. At the moment, it is predominantly the communications team within our office who would be in contact with the HSE.

Q364 David Mowat: Can you give an example of a campaign that you described as award-winning but was pretty weak in terms of getting to your members?

Scott Walker: For example, there is the Make the Promise campaign. At the heart of it is an extremely good message. It is something we have signed up to and which we believe is hugely important. The campaign is really about the fact that farmers as individuals leave the house in the morning and go out to work, but do they tell people where they are going to work and when they can be expected back so that if something happens, individuals can be in contact? For example, take a mobile phone with you. It is these kinds of things.

The basis of that campaign is extremely good and useful, but how are you getting that message down to individuals on the ground? It takes us back to an earlier point. You may be hitting a high proportion of the industry, but how do you engage with individuals on the ground who are not looking at the website? The website is an extremely good tool, but it is not one with which a lot of our members are actively engaged. I believe we should not focus on that. There are some publications that hit farmers on a weekly basis; there are certain magazines that most farmers in Scotland would read; there are certain agricultural journalists in Scotland who are good at putting across those messages. That is very much where I believe HSE should be targeting their resources to engage with farmers on the ground.

Q365 Graeme Morrice: Perhaps Martin would respond to my last question.

Martin Isles: I would make four points. Just to take up the point about the website, all the indications are that HSE are pointing everybody to their website. The info line has been closed, which I think is a shame, because it was a means by which a lot of people, who perhaps were not as aware as they might be, could casually phone up. Office phone numbers have been removed; so everything is being pointed to the website. If you are not web savvy, you will not get anywhere. That is the message going out. One understands why they are doing it, but I do not think it is the right thing to do.

In the quarrying industry we enjoy being part of the Quarries National Joint Advisory Committee. This is a tripartite body comprised of all the stakeholders: trade unions, industry, professional bodies, the Institute of Quarrying, educational establishments, training bodies and so on. They are all part of it. They meet twice a year, and it is a very vibrant body. Typically, you have quite large meetings, but they work and they are welcomed. I have had the opportunity to talk to Judith Hackitt recently, who said she saw no reason why these should not continue. It is a very good interaction for us.

Our organisation is not responsible for coal, but it works very closely with CoalPro, which is the organisation for coal producers. They have a large number of activities in Scotland. You may be aware that there was a double fatality at the Pennyvenie site at Dalmellington. I believe the fatality occurred in February 2007, but the legal determination came out only this year. The point I want to make is that the learning points have had to be suppressed effectively for so-called legal reasons until this year. Four years have gone by and people have not had the benefit of the learning points. We would like to see the HSE facilitate ways to get out learning points from very serious or fatal accidents a lot quicker than has been the case in the past.

Q366 Chair: Presumably, you have said this to them.

Martin Isles: I have personally said that.

Q367 Chair: What has been their response?

Martin Isles: To be fair, I think Judith Hackitt is going to make every effort to see if that can be done but, for instance, when there is a fatality it involves not only the criminal law but all the civil cases. I believe that the last one for the Pennyvenie incident was settled only a matter of weeks ago, so there are issues there. Such advice may prejudice that sort of action.

Q368 Chair: There were some things beyond dispute between the two sides that could have been learning points.

Martin Isles: Absolutely, and we feel those things should have been put into the public domain a lot earlier.

The last point, to answer your question fully, is our concern that we can do only so much in the industry in working closely with the trades unions and our members, the employers. The other key part of this issue is the manufacturers of equipment. In agriculture you work with large equipment, as do we; the coal industry works with even larger equipment. For an item of equipment to be put on sale in the UK it must have the CE mark. We do not have a lot of confidence in the CE mark. All our members, when receiving or ordering a piece of equipment, will require a long list of extras to be fitted to make it safe for use in the UK. We are all apartied to the EU machinery directive and that relies a lot on EN standards-Euro norms-and international ISO standards. Although those standards are being developed and updated, they will always lag behind best practice. I think that is a fact we have to accept, but in our association we have an initiative called Safer by Design which basically strongly urges manufacturers, falling short of creating barriers to trade, effectively to up their game and produce equipment for this country that is safe to use.

For instance, one of the outcomes of the Pennyvenie incident is that an offside camera to view a blind spot is now being fitted to those big dump trucks. We believe that should be fitted as standard. If it is an add-on or retrofit and it goes wrong, the cost is down to the user; if it is part of the original equipment, it is covered by the warranty. We believe the manufacturers have responsibilities to produce equipment that we and everybody, including HSE, deem safe.

Q369 Chair: That is very helpful. Presumably, you have been in dialogue with various agencies of Government about how that can be pursued.

Martin Isles: Very much so; and in Europe, in particular, we are pushing it very hard with the European Commission.

Q370 Chair: What is the blocking point in that? Is it the European Commission?

Martin Isles: We had to fall short of making it compulsory for our members, because, if we did, we would raise barriers to trade, but we are looking to get some funding next year to extend this and basically promote the principles. For instance, if you have a 360-degree tracked excavator and you have occasion to go to the engine compartment on the top, there should be some rudimentary handrails, or whatever. If you are fuelling a machine, do you have to climb a ladder to fuel it, or could it be done at ground level? There are now fast-fill options, a bit like Formula 1. You can have a fill mechanism at bumper level so that you do not have to climb up anything. If you do not have to climb up, you cannot fall off. For our industry, 50% of injuries are down to slips, trips and falls. They are not necessarily the most serious injuries, but in terms of quantitative injuries 50% is the standard figure, and it has not changed since I started collecting data back in 1996.

Q371 Chair: That is very helpful. Listening to that from an agricultural point of view, there is a whole number of parallels, but I presume you are not as far down that road in having dialogue with manufacturers about modifications. Or are you?

Nigel Miller: I do not think we are as far down that road. My view is that because the machinery is slightly smaller, maybe the fitting of cameras is less of an issue for us. The reality is that the machinery we use, whether it be a tractor or fork lift, is designed for 360degree vision, because you are working in confined spaces or you have to see machinery operating behind you. Visibility is a crucial part of agricultural machinery design. There are in-built safety issues, not just in guarding. The safety switches that click on if you get out of the driver’s seat, or alarm systems that go off if a lever is left in the active position when you stop, go way beyond what we have ever had and are very good.

Where modern machines are possibly more dangerous is that we now use electronic switches rather than mechanical levers. Therefore, just a flick of a finger can activate either hydraulics or put a machine into motion without a clutch. If you have an experienced operator, that is fantastic; if not, maybe you make mistakes. Accidents have happened because a dog or child has been left in the cab of a tractor or fork lift. A switch has been flicked inadvertently and the machine has been put in motion, or the hydraulics have been activated and somebody is trapped or crushed. In a normal industrial situation those are things that never happen, but on a farm it does. Maybe those are the things we have to think through a bit in engineering terms.

Q372 Chair: I have in mind the Safer by Design concept. There are similar things in other areas of work, but you do not have a structure or mechanism to liaise with manufacturers in that way-where there is an organised feedback process to identify risks.

Nigel Miller: Not a formal one, although there will be a feedback process through dealers and machinery manufacturers. On the initial run, they would seek feedback through their dealers on operator experience. A lot of machines are supplied with a tick-box questionnaire about operator experience. As an organisation we are not active in that, but there are mechanisms there which probably capture quite a lot of data and do a reasonable job.

Chair: David, you wanted to pick up some questions on charges.

Q373 David Mowat: You mentioned earlier the full cost recovery. The NFU is on record as saying that it regards the new structure as unfair. Could you elaborate a little on that?

Scott Walker: There are two aspects. One is about what people’s reaction will be as a result of full cost recovery. I believe that reaction will continue to be under-reporting and lack of engagement by farmers with the Health & Safety Executive, which is not helpful.

Q374 David Mowat: Is it not the case that these costs are incurred only if there is a material breach?

Scott Walker: Yes, but leading on from that, we do not have a full understanding of how the costs are to be calculated and the exact basis for the HSE charging £133 an hour. Are the costs being dealt with in a fair and just manner? How much of the back-room staff costs associated with an incident is the industry being asked to pay? If agriculture has a higher level of incidence of accidents associated with it, as we have discussed today, will it be left picking up a far higher cost for the running of the HSE? It is not a particular issue for the HSE or this Committee, but there is an issue about the very narrow levels of profitability and operating costs in agriculture. Therefore, I fear that for my membership this is another cost for them.

Q375 David Mowat: Do you have evidence of an increase in cost, anecdotally or factually, in terms of the new structure; and, if so, what do you think it is percentage-wise?

Scott Walker: I am sorry.

Q376 David Mowat: A new structure is being put in place. Do you have anecdotal or real evidence of what that has meant in terms of extra being paid by your members?

Nigel Miller: as yet, that really has not impacted on our members. The level of inspection is so low that these instances will be few and far between.

Q377 David Mowat: But this happens only when there is a material breach; it does not happen just when there is an inspection.

Scott Walker: Yes. Looking at the examples given in the consultation document that came out, my reading of it is that if a health and safety officer went to any farm because of the nature of the business, they are likely to find a technical breach, so it will come down to how the individual officer tackles that situation. If that officer just has a conversation with the farmer and gets a positive response, would it stop there? If the officer decided that he should write to the farmer formally to notify him of what he has found, there is a cost of £750 associated with it. That would be our concern.

Q378 David Mowat: To take the example you just gave, how would that work under the old cost system? What would the farmer be charged?

Nigel Miller: The farmer would not be charged at all. Under the present level of inspections the impact will be light because there are very few inspections, but the threat of it means that farmers will not be open about their operations, their equipment and the procedures they use. They will be frightened that they will be found to be in breach and will get some sort of charge. These inspections do not happen very often, so if you have a health and safety officer on the farm you want him to see things and get a positive reception. Our view is that maybe £750 is disproportionate if you have a damaged PTO guard. If you have 20 machines, you almost certainly have one damaged PTO guard. That is disproportionate, although it may be appropriate, but it closes down that openness which is absolutely vital and it means there is no chance of culture change, because farmers will retreat into a corner and try to keep any health and safety officer at arm’s length. They will not report, because they will be petrified that if they do, they will get a notice of infringement, or an inspection and then a notice.

Martin Isles: It will certainly cut down the number of cups of tea that inspectors are given, because effectively it will be £2 a minute, if a material breach is found. It could be found at the end of the inspection. They could be there for a full day and find a material breach at 4 o’clock, in which case you would be charged for the full day. One of our concerns arises if there is an appeal. We do not want to see lots of appeals; we would like to see good decisions taken by HSE. I have no reason to doubt that in most cases that will be so, but if there is an appeal, I understand the ultimate arbiter will be the HSE. We feel that is a judge and jury situation and it should be independent.

Q379 David Mowat: This is an appeal on cost.

Martin Isles: Either on cost or whether the breach was a material or technical one. We would like to see the ultimate arbiter be an independent body, not the HSE.

Q380 David Mowat: When witnesses from the chemicals industry came to see us, they said they had evidence of the HSE giving them a forward schedule, which implies a lot more visits and interventions. They were concerned that that was being driven by a need to recover more cost. It probably applies more to your industry. Have you seen that?

Martin Isles: I have no evidence of that. We are certainly concerned that inspection is not used as a revenue generator. For instance, if improvement or prohibition notices are given, we can track those; the details are in the public domain. If letters or e-mails are sent following a visit saying that x, y and z are required, we have no means of tracking them. It could, in theory, be open to abuse, but we have been assured that it will not be.

Q381 Chair: Are there any final points you want to raise with us? You will appreciate that we are here to help you; this is for your own good. We would be interested in hearing any answers that you had prepared for questions we have not asked you. We have written evidence from both organisations, but are there any particular points you want to leave with us for our report moving forward? You don’t have to.

Nigel Miller: One matter on which you questioned us was the level of engagement we had had with the Health & Safety Executive. It is ongoing, but it probably is not at an adequate level. That is certainly an action point for us, but it would be helpful if this Committee supported an integrated approach between ourselves and the Health & Safety Executive. We would be committed to working with them to look at the priority areas where work is required, because some of the campaigns probably have not had the bang for the buck they could have had if they had been better targeted. We feel we have a useful role there, and maybe we will be willing to commit resources to that approach.

On the last series of questions regarding the charging structure, that is quite crucial for us, because we have some concerns that just having inspections and sending out notices could be used as a revenue-generating exercise. Our hope would be that even if it cost the union a bit of money, we could come up with solutions with the Health & Safety Executive which, hopefully, would increase the interface between Health & Safety and our members, raise the level of awareness in a targeted way and perhaps increase reporting through ourselves, or by an anonymous service, which you suggested. In that way, hopefully, we will avoid a form of cost recovery that will close doors and reduce information flows, which would be unhelpful to us all.

Martin Isles: I would make two quick points, one of which is a specific one. First, my organisation believes that the proposed change of RIDDOR from three days to seven days is a retrograde step. It will certainly put us out of kilter with reporting on the European stage, but that may not be considered of too much interest to this Committee. Second, we enjoy an excellent partnership with HSE. We would not want to see any aspect of extended cost recovery threaten that relationship, because it is good and productive and we want to see it continue and even be enhanced.

Q382 Chair: It strikes me that rather than wait until all this has finished and then make a recommendation, if people are agreeable, we will try to arrange something fairly soon between NFU Scotland and the HSE with an agenda so that we can see things rolling forward. In addition, given some of the points raised with us, we would want to involve Unite the Union, inasmuch as they have an involvement as well. Maybe we will try to set it up sooner rather than later as a means of moving forward some of these things. If that identifies difficulties in structures and so on, we can feed that into the report, rather than wait to produce the report and then find there is a difficulty, if that is acceptable to you.

Nigel Miller: That would be helpful.

Chair: We can then close this section before we move on to Oil & Gas. Thank you very much for coming along.

Examination of Witness

Witness: Robert Paterson, Health and Safety Director, Oil & Gas UK, gave evidence.

[MR ALAN REID in the Chair]

Q383 Chair : Welcome, Mr Paterson. Thank you very much for coming along this afternoon. We much appreciate you giving us your time. Perhaps you would briefly explain who Oil & Gas UK are and how your membership is constituted.

Robert Paterson: I am Robert Paterson, health and safety director of Oil & Gas UK. OGUK is a trade association. We have members who are operators of installations offshore. They are the people who explore for and win oil and gas out of the ground. We have contractor and supply chain members. At the present, we have about 180 members.

Q384 Chair: Can you tell us who some of your more well-known members are?

Robert Paterson: Shell, BP, Talisman, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips-the full range of familiar names, and probably some unfamiliar ones and smaller operators.

Q385 Chair: How small would your smallest member be?

Robert Paterson: We have operators who will operate only a couple of small, normally unattended installations in the southern North Sea. As to how big they are, most have worldwide businesses but only a small presence in the UK sector.

Q386 Chair: So they are generally big companies.

Robert Paterson: Yes.

Q387 Jim McGovern: When we took evidence from the Health & Safety Executive, the critical thing they emphasised as a major hazard onshore and offshore was what they called asset integrity: in other words, keeping dangerous materials contained. When major incidents happen, it is usually as a result of dangerous materials escaping, and the same errors are repeated. Would you agree with that analysis by the HSE?

Robert Paterson: Yes, I would. Over the years we have worked very hard to reduce the number of hydrocarbon releases, for example. Back in 1997 the industry got together and set up the Step Change in Safety initiative to drive down the number of dangerous occurrences, like hydrocarbon releases and accidents. Over a period of time it was very successful in reducing the number of hydrocarbon leaks. I know that for the last few years we have been on a little bit of a plateau. The Step Change leadership team agreed last year that we needed to take a new initiative to reduce further the number of hydrocarbon leaks occurring offshore, and we are in the process of driving them down by 50% over the next two or three years.

Q388 Jim McGovern: When we talk about materials being released into the North sea or whatever, there is damage to the environment. My main concern is the health and safety of the people employed in that sector. I visited an offshore platform and was very impressed with the health and safety and training I had to go through just to visit. But when I was given an opportunity to speak to people employed on the platform outwith the earshot of management, they told me that they had little or no input into health and safety and it was driven almost totally by management. Is that a fair analysis?

Robert Paterson: No, I would not agree with that. I am not sure how long ago you were offshore. I know that in 2009 HSE did a survey, which is published on their website. I believe 3,500 offshore workers responded to questions from HSE.

Jim McGovern: They were drilled.

Robert Paterson: They used a public opinion poll survey company to do the work on their behalf. The overall impression was that 89% of offshore workers felt very engaged in offshore safety; they felt they could raise health and safety issues without feeling their jobs were under threat. That compared very favourably with similar surveys they had done onshore where the best result they got was about 63% satisfaction. I believe the offshore industry does pretty well in engaging with the work force.

Q389 Chair: Did they have to give their names when being surveyed, or was it anonymous?

Robert Paterson: It was an anonymous survey. I can make sure you have access to that survey, if you wish; it is on the HSE website.

Q390 Jim McGovern: It would be helpful if you could send it to us.

Robert Paterson: The link to it, yes.

Q391 Jim McGovern: Do you think the oil and gas industry is over-regulated in terms of health and safety?

Robert Paterson: The current regime was developed in the aftermath of Piper Alpha.

Q392 Jim McGovern: I lost a couple of friends as a result of that. Coincidentally, I think this week marks the 25th anniversary of a helicopter crash in which I also lost a friend.

Robert Paterson: Yes, the Chinook helicopter crash. I was involved in the initial investigation into Piper Alpha. At that stage I worked for the regulator and was very much involved in working with the industry to develop the regime we have. That has evolved over the last 15 years or more. It is a regime that is very effective in ensuring that the right behaviours are adopted by companies. It is a goal-setting regime; it requires companies to ensure that risks are as low as reasonably practicable. You have probably heard that term from HSE. But this is a very demanding piece of legislation, inasmuch as it constantly requires companies to look at what they are doing and see if they can do better. It may seem to the outsider sometimes that as an industry we respond only to major incidents, like Macondo and so on, but reassessment is going on all the time. We are responding to research and accidents, and to new information that we are sharing in the industry. Companies are continually reviewing what they have in place and asking themselves the very important question, "Is there anything else I can do, and why don’t I do it?" That challenge is set by the regime.

What we fear more than anything are the proposals that emerged from the European Union last week with a view to making very significant changes to our regulatory framework. It will cause us to rethink some of our approaches to safety cases to include more material in respect of environmental information and so on; it will take away resources from HSE to carry out reassessments of the safety cases, so there will not be so much front-line inspection. It will take away some of our resources to rewrite some of these safety cases and not add any real value to the process. The European Union recognise that around the North Sea there are some of the best health and safety regimes in the world, yet these proposed changes will tie up huge resources and not improve the sum of human knowledge in terms of health and safety.

Q393 Jim McGovern: Are you suggesting that the proposed changes will make health and safety in the North Sea in the oil and gas industry more lax than it is currently?

Robert Paterson: I think it will cause the industry and regulator to take their eyes off the ball for two or three years while things settle down again.

Q394 Jim McGovern: Will the industry be more hazardous because of this legislation?

Robert Paterson: Potentially. The draft regulation came out only last week, and we are making our analysis. When we have completed it, we would love to share it with you.

Q395 Jim McGovern: Those are your initial thoughts.

Robert Paterson: They are our initial thoughts. It only came out on Thursday of last week.

Q396 Jim McGovern: Do you think that the oil and gas industry in Scotland has a pretty good record in the prevention of major incidents?

Robert Paterson: No escape of gas or accident will ever be acceptable. We strive endlessly to reduce the number of accidents and gas releases. Looking at our record and that of many other industries-you heard about the poor record of the agricultural and quarrying industries earlier-we compare favourably with general manufacturing in the UK; indeed, we have better statistics than the public sector in terms of accident rates. There is a lot to be proud of in this industry, but we are not a complacent industry; we are continuing to strive to drive down those incidents.

Q397 David Mowat: Referring to the European regulations that came out last week, did you not have a chance to comment upon or participate in the process of their development?

Robert Paterson: Not in the detailed process. Although there is quite a lot of similarity with what is in the UK regulations, they have chosen different words, and different words mean different things. It is a concern that a European regulation will require us to remove all the relevant sections of existing regulations in the UK that apply similar provisions. We have to go through that process; we have to develop interpretive guidance to the new regulations and work to revise the interpretive guidance to the existing regulations that will remain onshore. It is a recipe for all sorts of confusion in an industry that the European Union recognises as one of the best regulated areas in the world. But they are trying to make it a level playing field across the whole of Europe so that places like Romania, the Adriatic and Baltic come up to the same standards.

Q398 David Mowat: But in terms of deepwater drilling that is only in UK waters, is it not? Even the whole offshore industry must be 90% UK, not counting Norway, which is not in the EU.

Robert Paterson: You are absolutely right that 90% of oil and gas in the European Union comes from the UK.

Q399 David Mowat: It would be an even higher percentage if it was offshore, which is where some of the safety issues are.

Robert Paterson: Yes.

Q400 Chair: If these regulations were introduced, would Norway have to obey them as well?

Robert Paterson: They are part of the European Economic Community. Their big concern is that they do not even get a kick at the ball because they are not part of that debating circle.

Q401 Chair: But they would have to obey them, too.

Robert Paterson: Yes, unless they decided otherwise.

Q402 David Mowat: I want to put a question about the incident in the Gulf of Mexico last year. Did we have processes in places that in your judgment would have meant it would not have happened here in the same way, or could it have happened here?

Robert Paterson: Yes. We are in a very different environment here. A very different regulatory framework was developed post Piper. In the UK, wells are subject to detailed design arrangements. The detailed design is subject to independent check by a well examiner, which is an independent company. Every company that is to drill a well must submit a well notification to the regulator. There are weekly notifications and drill reports to the regulator. There are lots of opportunities for regulatory intervention.

Q403 David Mowat: Did those things not happen in the Gulf of Mexico?

Robert Paterson: No, not at all, and to be perfectly honest, some of this does not happen even in Norway. They do not have well examiners, an independent verifier looking at things, and they do not notify wells that are drilled from fixed installations in Norway. We have a very robust regime, but having a good regulatory regime on its own will never be sufficient. You have to have a competent regulator with adequate resources to ensure that those regulations are applied. That regulator challenge from HSE is a key element in ensuring high standards of safety in the North Sea.

Q404 David Mowat: Was the group set up to investigate it OSPRAG?

Robert Paterson: Yes.

Q405 David Mowat: They looked at it and said, "We are doing pretty much everything we need to do. Without necessarily being complacent, we are pretty happy that we are in a good place and do not need to do anything new."

Robert Paterson: We do need to do something new, and I will come back to that. OSPRAG had representation from the industry, from contractors, DECC, HSE, MCA, the Department for Transport (SOSREP); and the trade unions RMT and Unite were represented. Occasionally, the Energy Commissioner sent a representative from the EU as well. During that process, the group set up a number of sub-groups to look at exactly how we worked in the UK. It looked at the regulatory framework, the operational arrangements, blowout preventers, and so on. During that process we identified a number of good and best practices that were used in the industry. As a result, we set up a number of well forums to develop guidance to capture that good practice and make sure we shared it across all the membership in the UK. The guidance is also available to anybody else around the world. That guidance and best practice is being developed. HSE have been part of that process and they will use that guidance when they go out to inspect installations to make sure companies meet those requirements.

Q406 David Mowat: On the ageing of platforms, all other things being equal, no matter how well maintained stuff is, as it gets older more tends to go wrong.

Robert Paterson: I have noticed the problem myself; we all do.

Q407 David Mowat: A lot of the platforms that are still operating there are coming towards the end of their lives. are you seeing more maintenance issues and more down time?

Robert Paterson: I would not accept that they are getting towards the end of their lives. Some installations are working beyond what was originally anticipated as their operational working life. To suggest that they are at the end of it would be wrong, because these things are pretty well maintained. The UK North Sea was the original deepwater sector; even the southern and central North Sea was ‘deep’ compared with what was done before, so people overengineered many of these installations. They are standing up to the test of time and are very robust. Many of these installations have been substantially reworked and modified to ensure they remain fit for purpose, because we are now able to get more oil and gas from some reservoirs and extend the life of the fields. But by careful management of the installations and ensuring they retain the integrity required, we will be able to support UK plc in the exploitation of that oil for another 20 or 25 years.

Q408 David Mowat: For example, you do not see more down time of platforms now than you might have done a decade ago due to longevity?

Robert Paterson: We went through a bad period in the late ’90s when the life of the North Sea did not look as long as we thought it would be. The oil price had gone down to $9 per barrel and it was uneconomic to extend the life of many fields. But with price changes and new technology, we went through a process a few years ago with the regulator. Their KP3 inspection programme looked at asset integrity and really took the industry to task. As an industry we grasped that nettle and made substantial improvements, because we could start to see a long-term future for the industry and it was worth investing money to ensure that these installations, particularly the hub installations, remain there for as long as necessary.

Q409 David Mowat: To put the specific question, you are not seeing more down time now than you did in the past.

Robert Paterson: No.

Q410 Mr McKenzie: Do you have an industry-wide procedure to encourage employees to report accidents or leakages?

Robert Paterson: On every door of every installation there is a phone number that employees can call to report anything they wish to HSE. That confidential phone line is available. That phone number is on the back of every door of every cabin, so we encourage wide reporting. We believe there is a high standard of reporting of offshore incidents, probably better than in many other industries because it is a closed community and so people do that. I know that, when HSE inspectors visit an installation, they will look at the first aid book and see what treatments have been carried out, so they will get a feel if they are not receiving incident reports from a particular company for any reason.

Q411 Mr McKenzie: How do you further encourage, support and assure employees that any reports would be without subsequent discipline?

Robert Paterson: The HSE report to which I referred earlier showed that well over 90% of people felt confident that they could report any safety issue without any threat to their jobs.

Q412 Mr McKenzie: The Government want to reduce the number of inspections carried out by the HSE by about one third and focus the remaining inspections on high-risk industries. How do you think this will affect the oil and gas industry?

Robert Paterson: I cannot see that affecting the oil and gas industry. You were talking earlier about a charging regime being introduced. The offshore industry has been part of a charging regime for HSE since 1999. It affected all the so-called permissioning regimes where a safety case was required, so we have been part of that for some time. In many ways, the offshore division is fairly ring-fenced in terms of its finances. We do have concerns that the HSE’s offshore division has an ageing work force. It is important that they maintain their competence and ability to come out and inspect the industry to provide that regulatory challenge, which is an important element in any effective regime, but the cuts HSE have talked about and reduction in inspections are not impacting the offshore industry in the way you spoke about earlier.

Q413 Mr McKenzie: Are you in any discussions or conversations with the Government in that respect?

Robert Paterson: We do have occasional meetings with the various Ministers who have had responsibility for health and safety, in particular Mr Grayling of the DWP from time to time. I have no doubt that we will also want to have more discussions with them about the proposed European regulations, because they will seriously impact the way HSE work and function and will take many of their resources away from front-line inspection, which I consider to be the most valuable part of the whole process, where the HSE inspectors get out and see what happens on installations and talk to the work force and find out the real concerns.

Q414 Lindsay Roy: It is often said that health and safety is everybody’s business. On the rigs, are there designated people who have a particular health and safety role?

Robert Paterson: Yes. Everybody out there will have a health and safety role, but typically there will be a safety manager on every installation, and safety representatives from among the work force will also have a role, but ultimate responsibility for safety on the installation will rest with the installation manager.

Q415 Lindsay Roy: I note that HSE are not recruiting at the moment, and there is a suspicion that some expertise might be lost. Do you share that view?

Robert Paterson: I certainly share the view that expertise is being lost in HSE. I do not believe that the offshore division has stopped its recruitment; it is still doing a modest amount. Because it is pretty well financed by the industry, it has not faced the same cuts that other parts have.

Q416 Lindsay Roy: Is that compensated for by increased training on the rigs and platforms by the companies concerned?

Robert Paterson: Certainly not. I think an essential element in the whole process is to have inspectors turn up from time to time and provide companies with a challenge.

Q417 Lindsay Roy: Absolutely. But there is a strong self-evaluation component on the rigs and platforms.

Robert Paterson: Yes.

Q418 Lindsay Roy: I was privileged to be on one last week. Although it was one of many, I was immensely impressed by the amount of time devoted to visitors’ health and safety on the rig.

Robert Paterson: Good. Thank you.

Q419 Jim McGovern: Can you explain the charging regime that you have with the Health & Safety Executive at the moment? How will the new cost recovery programme affect your industry?

Robert Paterson: The cost of the new proposals will not change anything as far as concerns the offshore industry. At the moment, HSE charge for the time inspectors spend undertaking investigations, safety case assessment, writing guidance and doing research. It is all built into an overall charge of about £256 an hour. That more or less finances 85% to 90% of the offshore division’s activities. There are elements of what happens in the offshore division that are not related to offshore. They have a diving inspectorate, for example, and those diving inspectors look at fish farm diving and things like that, which is not part of a permissioning-related charging regime.

Q420 Jim McGovern: You do not envisage any changes whatsoever.

Robert Paterson: No. The charging regime has been in place for a long time. There was a lot of concern that it would affect the relationship between inspectors and the industry. That has not proved to be the case, as far as I am aware. There has never been an appeal against a charge. Some charges have been queried because of the way that they have been allocated and more clarity was required, but no appeals have ever been lodged against the charging regime as it affects the offshore division.

Q421 Jim McGovern: You cannot envisage any appeal coming from your sector.

Robert Paterson: No. We do not like having to pay it, because there is always uncertainty about how much you will have to pay in any year. You do not know how many times the inspectors will visit, so it is very difficult to budget for. That is the irritation factor, but there has never been any need to appeal against it.

Q422 Jim McGovern: There is no objection to it.

Robert Paterson: There is not an objection.

Q423 Jim McGovern: Given the cuts to the HSE budget, do you imagine it will mean fewer inspections and visits?

Robert Paterson: No, because the offshore division is virtually wholly funded by the offshore industry and the fees they charge.

Q424 Graeme Morrice: How many times have your members been prosecuted for failing to maintain health and safety standards in Scotland?

Robert Paterson: I do not know the numbers, but I can find out. It will be on the HSE website.

Q425 Graeme Morrice: But there is a number.

Robert Paterson: Yes, there will be.

Q426 Graeme Morrice: You do not know the specific number, but do you think it is low, medium or high?

Robert Paterson: I think it will be fairly low, perhaps one or two a year. This is an industry that takes safety seriously. Very rarely will you find a situation where somebody has not done the training or is not competent. Often, there are debates about how competent somebody is or how well the training is effected. It is a challenging area.

Q427 Graeme Morrice: Because of the different legal situation north and south of the border, are you aware of any difference in time it takes for prosecutions against your members to reach court in Scotland compared with England?

Robert Paterson: I do not believe there is any difference at all. In Scotland the Procurator Fiscal Service is used; in England and Wales the offshore division inspectors use the Crown Prosecution Service. That is different from other parts of HSE. I know that factory inspectors prosecute in their own right in the courts in England and Wales, but that is not the case with the offshore division.

Q428 Graeme Morrice: Do you know how many cases the Health & Safety Executive have recommended for action against your members which the Crown Office has not pursued?

Robert Paterson: No.

Q429 Lindsay Roy: Presumably, you could find that out and let the Committee know.

Robert Paterson: I will try, but I am not sure I will be able to find out. I do not want to commit myself to doing something unless it is possible to do it.

Q430 Graeme Morrice: But if it is possible to find out, you can certainly let us know.

Robert Paterson: It is possible, but HSE would be a better place from which to get that information. It is going to be very difficult. I would have to ask HSE for it; they would be the ones who would know how many had been turned down by the Procurator Fiscal.

Chair: It is probably better if we ask the HSE directly rather than you.

Q431 David Mowat: Is your association responsible for the people who are drilling unconventional gas?

Robert Paterson: No.

Q432 David Mowat: That is outside your bailiwick altogether.

Robert Paterson: It is, yes.

Q433 Lindsay Roy: Perhaps I may ask about improvements that have been made in relation to health and safety for people in transit from shore to offshore.

Robert Paterson: Are you talking about helicopter travel?

Q434 Lindsay Roy: Yes. I spent almost a day training for a helicopter splash in a pond and managed to evacuate properly. I am now the proud owner of a certificate, so I can visit rigs until 2015. Presumably, there have been dramatic changes over the years because of what has happened.

Robert Paterson: There have. You will be aware of the tragic crash two years ago on 1 April 2009. I understand the AAIB report into it will be published on 24 November, so we await that with interest. We have recently had the AAIB report into the helicopter ditching that took place in February of the same year. As a result of that, the CAA said we had to get rid of all the personal locator beacons people had, which was reasonably widespread offshore but certainly not universal. About 70% of people would have had personal locator beacons on them. The reason for their removal is that if they go off inadvertently, they can interfere with the aircraft’s avionics, for the same reason we turn off mobile phones when we go on an aeroplane. We worked very closely with the Civil Aviation Authority to get those devices properly tested and make sure they did not operate inadvertently. They went through rigorous testing, and now there is universal usage of personal locator beacons for those going offshore. That gives us a high chance of finding people if they end up in the water and away from a life raft.

In addition, for several years we have been working to try to improve our ability to track helicopters all the way out to offshore installations. We have introduced a multilateration system, which works like a radar but is not. It allows air traffic controllers to watch the helicopters all the way out to installations. That became live in December last year, and it works extremely well. We can see helicopters taking off from the helidecks of installations in the middle of the North Sea.

Q435 Lindsay Roy: Am I right that a number of people do not pass the test to get on a helicopter because they cannot cope with the induction to a helicopter shell going into water and being able to escape from it?

Robert Paterson: We do our best to try to help people who have a fear of water. During your dunking in the HUET I dare say there were some people with red helmets who were poor swimmers that the divers in the water yanked out very quickly. We do try to help people, but the survival course is critical.

Q436 Lindsay Roy: We were told that some people failed, by which I mean they were unable to achieve the standard required, so they were not able to go offshore.

Robert Paterson: Yes. We try to give them every opportunity and encouragement, with divers in the water to make sure they feel comfortable; they have nose clips and we lower them into the water slowly.

Q437 Lindsay Roy: It seems quite a robust procedure.

Robert Paterson: It is. I would not want to go offshore in a helicopter knowing that the person next to me had not had the training and would not be making his way out of the window with me being able follow him. I would be very worried about that.

Q438 Jim McGovern: A lot of my constituents are employed in the offshore sector. Obviously, they know what I do for a living now, and most know what I did previously. I was a trade union official. Most of those I know who work in the offshore oil industry still feel there is very much a culture of union bashing. Would you have a comment on that?

Robert Paterson: That is not the industry I recognise. We move heaven and earth to involve the trades unions. At the Step Change leadership team, Jake Molloy and John Taylor come along; three safety representatives from offshore now go to those meetings.

Q439 Jim McGovern: Are the safety reps selected by the work force?

Robert Paterson: The safety reps are selected by the work force. We cannot always get all the same ones, but they do come along to the meetings. Sometimes they would be on an offshore shift, so there are some practical issues, but we have started to have three safety reps there. On the helicopter safety steering group the trades unions and safety reps sit alongside the industry leaders. We have a work force engagement group looking at work force issues. Again, Jake, John and safety reps are involved in that. Today, we had a Step Change elected safety reps meeting in Aberdeen. I think over 70 elected safety reps got together today to talk about the concerns they have with the industry and learn what Step Change is trying to put in place to ensure their safety. Work force engagement is a top priority for us because we believe that is the only way to make progress in driving down accidents.

Jim McGovern: Thank you for that; I am delighted to hear it.

Chair: Thank you to the Committee and to Mr Paterson for being very co-operative in quick questions and answers, which means that we have a few minutes left. Is there anything else that you would like to ask, David?

Q440 David Mowat: Perhaps I may make an observation. One thing that has happened in the industry is that, by and large, the majors have left the North Sea and new people like Talisman, who were not majors certainly 20 years ago, have come in because they are thought to be more cost-efficient and better at the back end of the process.

Robert Paterson: They are more nimble on their feet.

Q441 David Mowat: Does that have any health and safety implications, in that they may run a tighter ship, if you like, in terms of cost and control in order to get the last residues out of these fields?

Robert Paterson: I think they just run it differently. They still have to convince the regulator that they are managing health and safety, that they have an acceptable safety case and appropriate management systems, and that they comply with current good industry practices. If companies propose alternative ways of complying with the law that do not fit with current good industry thinking, they are challenged by the HSE to justify why they are doing it differently.

Q442 David Mowat: Why has the switch taken place? Why are they better than the majors? Why is there more economic value for them, presumably, than there was for the majors?

Robert Paterson: I think they are just more nimble on their feet.

Q443 David Mowat: But how does being nimble on your feet manifest itself?

Robert Paterson: It is just the ability to make a profitable enterprise out of getting the residues from the North Sea. Some have been very lucky. There are substantial reserves there, and the new technologies you can apply to get oil out of the ground, with horizontal completions and so on, allow you to squeeze the extra few per cent out of the reservoirs.

Q444 David Mowat: I agree with you, but you would think the majors knew all that before they left.

Robert Paterson: Yes, but they are geared more to developing new big fields; that is what they specialise in, and these other companies specialise in mature field development.

Q445 Chair: Mr Paterson, before you go, is there any other point you want to get across that you have not had an opportunity to put up to now?

Robert Paterson: We genuinely believe that we have a very robust regime in the UK. One of our major fears is that the desire by the European Union to do something post Macondo will undermine all the good work that has been done over the last 15 to 18 years since the Piper Alpha report was written. It seems that the European Union is also trying to reserve powers to itself to take more control over this industry, and we are entirely unhappy about that being taken away from the UK.

Q446 Chair: If you are already better than what Europe are proposing, what concern do you have?

Robert Paterson: The concern is that it will tie us up with bureaucracy in having to rewrite the safety case and major hazard reports that we will have to put in. These have to go through an assessment and acceptance process with the regulator. That means we are busy producing documents to satisfy a regulator. Both we and the regulator are taking our eye off the ball because we are busy dealing with documents rather than the real safety issues. There is that diversion of attention and uncertainty from having an interface with two different regimes, the Piper residual regulations and the European regulations, and from what we can see at the moment, there is not an easy fit.

Chair: Thank you very much, Mr Paterson. We much appreciate your coming along to give us your time this afternoon.

[1] Note by Witness: For the whole of Great Britain, within the MPA footprint, from 1/1/2005 to 31/12/2010 there were 5 direct-employee fatalities and 9 contractor fatalities. Since the start of the current millennium, contractor fatalities in GB have been twice as many as direct-employee fatalities. MPA now has an overarching expectation of ‘Zero Harm’ and for many years has supported the ‘Target Zero’ approach adopted by the HSE for the Quarrying Industry.

[2] Note by witness: Control of Quarry Blasting Operations: The principle means of regulating blasting operations at quarries is through the various statutes. The planning system must confine itself to the control of any aspect of blasting operations that is essential in order in order to make the overall operation acceptable in planning terms. It is unlikely that a simple planning condition specifying a distance within which blasting should not encroach would do the job, taking into account the great variation there could be between the physical characteristics of sites, the material they are blasting and the methods used. Each case would be considered on its merits but planning condition controls are normally restricted to limits on measured ground vibration at specific locations and perhaps limits imposed on air overpressure.

Prepared 27th January 2012