Health and Safety in Scotland

Written evidence submitted by the Scottish Hazards Campaign

Executive Summary/Recommendations:

In this submission, the Scottish Hazards Campaign comments on the portrayal and perceptions of occupational health and safety (OH&S); OH&S data; the OH&S record in Scotland; international comparisons; occupational health services; enforcement resources; enforcement priorities and the deregulation agenda; impact on business; roles of different bodies in Scotland; the procurator fiscal service; the role of Trade Unions; the need for a Scottish Hazards Centre. We make the following recommendations:

*Call for a clear commitment from the Scottish Government to improving OH&S in Scotland, and, if this is forthcoming, move toward devolution of OH&S regulation and enforcement;

*Create, strengthen and resource an effective partnership on occupational health and safety in Scotland, including in its remit action to:- address inadequacies in data collection, analysis, publication and use;- identify and address challenges particular to Scotland; and - treat OH&S as a major public health issue

*Reverse cuts and substantially improve the resourcing of enforcement bodies, and prioritise their core enforcement role;

*Strengthen OH&S legislation/regulation in specific areas, including corporate accountability, stress, requirement to provide OH services and asbestos;

*Strengthen and enforce the roles and rights of trade union safety representatives, and resource a Scottish Hazards Centre to provide OH&S information, advice and support to vulnerable and unrepresented workers;

*Work toward a comprehensive occupational health service delivered through the NHS.

Scottish Hazards Campaign

The Scottish Hazards Campaign (SHC) network campaigns for improved worker health and safety throughout Scotland and joins with others internationally to campaign for improved working conditions throughout the world. It is part of the UK Hazards Campaign and the European Hazards Network. The Campaign has an active network of 350 members throughout Scotland. The majority are trade union health and safety representatives, shop stewards, equality and learning representatives. Members also include OH&S professionals and people involved in related campaigns, eg asbestos, RSI, FACK (Families Against Corporate Killers).


1. Our members see the daily impact of both good and inadequate management of OH&S in their workplaces and among their members/work colleagues. The Campaign has major concerns about the present state of workplace health and safety in Scotland and, even more so, about the implications for working conditions of the current financial crisis and projected public sector cuts.

2. Portrayal and perceptions of OH&S

We are concerned by negative public perceptions of OH&S. These perceptions are underpinned by consistent underestimation of the size of the problem by the Government and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). They have also been strengthened by the Government’s strongly expressed view that OH&S regulation is a ‘burden on business’ and an apparent acceptance that a certain level of workplace death, injury and ill health is inevitable.

Headline figures on work related deaths in Scotland appear to show that 25-30 people die each year through work. – painting a totally false picture of the real situation. This figure neglects those whose deaths have been caused by accidents reported through other channels, eg work related road traffic deaths, air and sea accidents and the much higher numbers who die each year from occupational diseases including cancer and coronary heart disease. The TUC [1] concludes from the research that at least 20,000 people die annually through work but states that the real total could be double that. In Scotland this translates to a minimum of 2000 deaths per year due to occupational injury and disease. Compare this to the most recent Scottish Government figures for:

Deaths: Homicide 78

Deaths: Road Traffic accidents 270

Work related injury, ill health and death is a major public health issue. Accurate reporting of its impact and its inclusion as an integral part of public health campaigns would raise its profile, encourage action to address it more effectively and counter misleading perceptions.

3. Data

It is accepted that OH&S incidents, injury and ill health is under reported. In particular, statistics regarding occupational disease are disputed, in part through lack of good data. We would reiterate the statement of the 2008 report of the House of Commons Select Committee [2] : We are concerned that HSE is struggling to cope with its occupational health remit. It admits to basing its occupational health policy on an incomplete data source and is failing to meet its occupational ill health targets, and call on the HSE to take urgent measures to address this.

4. OH&S in Scotland

The Scottish Hazards Campaign is aware that the level of work related fatalities and major injuries in Scotland has been consistently higher than that of the UK as a whole [3] . The government and HSE explanation for this is that Scotland has a higher percentage of workers in highly hazardous sectors. We do not accept this as a full explanation and believe that other factors will be involved. Research by Woolfson and Beck [4] indicate that some of these might be lower prosecution rates and lower levels of fines, a concentration of areas of high unemployment and the additional difficulties in enforcement caused by Scotland’s geography. Even if we were to accept the government’s assessment, disproportionate fatalities and injuries would be a strong argument for a disproportionate level of resourcing for the HSE in Scotland. However, the opposite is true, with Scotland getting 7.2% of the HSE cake to cover 8.5% of the working population. [5]

5. International Comparisons

We are concerned also by the false impression given by the Government and the HSE that the UK is an exemplar in the field of OH&S. In January 2010, a well recognised H&S risk index [6] ranked the UK as only 20th among OECD countries and 30th internationally.

Through its involvement in the European Work Hazards Network, SHC has looked at different models of OH&S support and enforcement. Those which have been particularly impressive were Finland, Sweden and Denmark (although unfortunately in Denmark and Sweden there has been some erosion of services due to changes in government policy).

Occupational Health Services

The UK is particularly poor in the provision of occupational health services. HSE figures indicate that two thirds of working people in the UK have no access to occupational health expertise and support, and a study undertaken by the Institute of Occupational Medicine for the HSE found that only 3% of UK companies provided all the key elements of occupational health support. [7] The UK situation compares badly with most European Countries.

A strong case can be made that within European and even UK law, we are in breach regarding provision of OH services. Within European law, The Framework Directive (89/391) requires that all workplaces should have preventive occupational health services. This in turn is based on the International Labour Organisation Convention 161. The UK has yet to ratify this convention which requires ratifying countries to formulate and implement a coherent national policy on OH services, and to progressively develop OH services for all workers. The HSE has brought a prosecution under regulation 5 of the Management Regulations (Dundee Council 2006) because it did not provide access to OH services. The Global Strategy on OH for All (WHO, 1995 [8] ) stated that all workers should have access to OH services.


In relation to OH services, the Scottish Hazards Campaign welcomes the establishment by the Scottish Government of the Scottish Centre for Healthy Working Lives and in particular the new pilot Working Health Services Scotland rehabilitation services. However, this provides only one of the key elements of an OH service to only some workers and is therefore only a first step toward addressing Scotland’s totally inadequate OH service provision.

Models for good OH Services are not hard to find. See the STUC [9] for a full discussion of OH in Scotland

6. Enforcement Resources

SHC is deeply alarmed by the cuts being imposed in enforcement bodies. Your Committee will be well aware of the 35% cut being imposed on the HSE. Although Local Authorities have not yet been able to give detailed information on proposed cuts in Environmental Health Services, it is clear that they will be affected by across the board cuts in LA funding.

These resource reductions follow years of similar cutbacks. Recent research shows a 21% cut in the number of Environmental Health Officers in Scotland over the last 15 years [10] In July 2010, academics Steve Tombs and David Whyte reported that over the past decade there has been dramatic falls in UK rates of OH&S inspections, investigations and prosecutions. [11] In relation to HSE enforcement in Scotland, the University of Stirling’s Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group (OEHRG) [12] stated in 2008: In Scotland, …numbers employed dropping year on year from 2003/4 when the figure was 304 full-time equivalents (FTEs) down to just 264 in April 2008, a fall of over 13 per cent. …Frontline inspectors covering factories and agriculture have dropped by over 16 per cent. Offshore inspectors are down by 20 per cent and only one inspector covers all of Scotland’s quarrying industry.

SHC has consistently argued for additional resources for both the HSE and Local Authority Environmental Health services. In 2004, we gave evidence on this to the Work and Pensions Selection Committee inquiry into the work of the Health and Safety Commission and Health and Safety Executive [13] .

Your Committee will be aware that the 2004 Select Committee recommended a doubling in the number of HSE inspectors. In 2008 that same Committee said The HSE aims to meet a 60:40 ratio of proactive and reactive work ,however we heard that not only are businesses likely to have an HSE inspection just once every 14.5 years but that also accident investigations are being scaled back. Academic research has highlighted the influence of the number of inspections on levels of compliance with health and safety obligations.

7. Enforcement priorities and the deregulation agenda

There is strong evidence that, as stated by the 2004 Select Committee conclusions, it is inspection, backed by enforcement, that is most effective in motivating duty holders to comply with their responsibilities under health and safety law. [14] The current government appears to accept this as they propose to continue proactive inspections of some high risk sectors. However, they are failing to follow the logic of the evidence by proposing to stop proactive inspection of most sectors despite some of them having comparatively high rates of ill health and injury. We would reiterate the conclusion of the 2004 Work and Pensions Select Committee that the HSE should concentrate on and strengthen its enforcement role.

Alongside our concerns about the reduction in resources to HSE and LA enforcement is concern about the deregulation agenda of the current government as indicated in the remit given to the Lofstedt Review and the tenor of the material on the Red Tape Challenge website. The Lofstedt review is titled: An independent review of health and safety legislation. However, the 10 questions posed in its call for evidence do not include any request for feedback about regulations which might need strengthened or new areas which require regulation. Examples of these would be regulations on workplace stress and more effective legislation on corporate manslaughter/homicide. Question 9 asks for example of where EU directives have been unnecessarily enhanced but does not ask for examples of where they may have been unnecessarily weakened, eg Working Time Regulations. Asbestos Regulations and translation of the 1989 Framework Directive on Health and Safety at Work.

8. Impact on business

One of the arguments for deregulation is that OH&S regulation threatens jobs and job creation by imposing too big a burden on business. However, the evidence does not support this [15] . One of the cuts being made by the HSE is to the information helpline. Our understanding is that this helpline dealt with over 200,000 per year many of whom are small businesses. A TUC spokesperson said : The HSE Infoline has, for many years provided an invaluable service to both health and safety representatives and to small businesses. … The government claims to want to help small businesses but it is them who will be affected most by the closure of the service [16] A private H&S consultancy firm echoed this: "The government’s recently published plans ‘Good Health and Safety, Good for Everyone’ talk about making things easier for small businesses and improving access to information. It is hard to see how the decision to close these services squares with this." [17]

The HSE has consistently argued that good OH&S management is good for business and the evidence bears this out. Claims of an increasing burden of regulation are not true. In fact, examination of the level of regulation shows that there is now 46% less regulation than in 1974 and 37% less than 15 years ago [18] . In financial terms, the British Chambers of Commerce estimate the annual total cost to industry as 2.2bn. However, that must be put into perspective alongside the findings of an HSE 2008 economics briefing [19] which estimated the cost of each workplace fatality as 1.5m , and a government regulatory impact assessment [20] in 2006 put the cost of non-asbestos occupational cancer alone at between 3.3 and 12.3bn. Complaints from business about the cost to them of this ‘compensation culture’ are challenged by a 2008 analysis by the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) [21] which concluded that: "Although the costs of workplace injuries and work-related ill health are attributable to the activities of the business… the bulk of these costs (3/4) fell ‘externally’ on individuals and society."

The need for clear regulation and strong enforcement is underlined by both the recent banking crisis and the Deepwater Horizon disaster in which lack of regulation played a large part and the current crisis facing care homes. Shocking cases such as Southern Cross, the Winterbourne View home in Bristol and the Elsie Inglis home in Edinburgh highlight the need for strong enforcement. It is informative to compare the inspection timetable of Social Care and Social Work Inspection Scotland (once in 12 months or once in 24 if ‘low risk) to that proposed by the HSE for most workplaces (none).

9. Roles of different bodies responsible for OH&S in Scotland

The complexity of division and co-ordination of roles and responsibilities in this area is multiplied by differentiation between devolved and reserved bodies. With health, local authority enforcement, fire, environment all devolved, SHC believes that, given a clear commitment to the improvement of OH&S by the Scottish Government, devolution of OH&S would lead to more effective partnership working. The Campaign is part of the Partnership for Health and Safety in Scotland. We have welcomed the establishment of PHASS and our inclusion in that body. However, we feel that its remit, role, resourcing and power do not enable it be as effective as such a partnership should be. We would argue for a much stronger role for the Scottish Parliament and Government in OH&S legislation and enforcement.

10. Procurator Fiscal Service

The Scottish Hazards Campaign welcomed the establishment of the dedicated Health and Safety Division within the Procurator Fiscal Service in 2009. However, we feel it is too early to know how effective the new service will be. Our members, and in particular those who have lost family through work related death, remain very concerned by low levels of prosecution, inadequate penalties, long drawn out time frames for prosecution and lack of support for victims and their families.

11. Role of Trade Unions

It is known and acknowledged by the HSE and both Governments that workplaces with active trade union health and safety representatives are 50% safer [22] . Yet, the statutory rights of those representatives to time off for H&S duties, to education and training, to inspect the workplace, are not effectively protected.

With further devolution, the Scottish Parliament could ensure enforcement of these rights and a strengthening of the role of trade union H&S representatives through the introduction of PINS (provisional improvement notices) and extend their work by enabling the development of roving safety representatives. This could be particularly important at a time of cuts when the use of temporary, agency and sub contracted workforces will increase. There is evidence from the UK and elsewhere that such arrangements can be effective. [23]

Scottish Hazards Centre

It is also important to consider the provision of information, advice and support for non-unionised workers. A Scottish Hazards Centre would build on the effective role trade unions have played in reducing incidences of occupational ill health in unionised workplaces [24] . It would be a front line service, providing advice, information and support services for individual workers and groups of workers in Scotland who are not unionised, who do not have access to OH&S expertise, with particular emphasis on those most exposed to risks [25] . The evidence is that if these workers gain knowledge and are supported in raising issues/taking action their employers and work colleagues will also benefit. A separate paper putting forward detailed proposals regarding such a centre is available.

September 2011

[1] TUC (2010) The Case for Health and Safety accessed at

[2] Department of Work and Pensions Select Committee (2008) The role of the HSC and the HSE in regulating workplace health and safety accessed at

[3] 2009/10 .9 fatalities per 100,000 as compared to .4 in England and Wales

[4] Woolfson, C and Beck, M (1999) The Scottish Anomaly Scottish Critical Policy Studies

[5] Office for National Statistics (2011) Labour Market Statistics accessed at ; and

[5] Scottish Government (2010) Local Area Labour Markets in Scotland accessed at

[6] Maplecroft (2010) Health and Safety Risk Index accessed at

[6] This ‘scores countries on their performance across eight indicators, including: work related fatalities and accidents, number of accidents causing work absences, number of deaths from work related diseases, expenditure on health, life expectancy, government effectiveness, regulatory quality and the total number of ILO (International Labour Organisation) conventions ratified.’

[7] Pilkington, A et al (2002) Survey of use of Occupational Health Support HSE accessed at

[8] updated by WHO Global Plan of Action on Workers' Health (GPA) (2008-2017) accessed at

[9] STUC (2009) Improving Occupational Health in Scotland accessed at

[10] Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland (2011)

[11] Tombs, S and Whyte, D (2010) Health and Safety Gone Mad? Institute of Employment Rights Accessed at

[12] OEHRG (2008) Toothless enforcement invites more workplace disasters accessed at

[13] saying : The SHC has been extremely concerned by cutbacks in HSE funding. It is angered by statistics which indicate the inability of the HSE to carrying out its inspection and investigation role to anything approaching an acceptable level. We are equally concerned by under resourcing of environmental health services. This is not a criticism of the individual inspectors who, we believe, often share our frustration.


[14] Also see Davis , C (2004 ) Making Companies Safe: What Works ? Centre for Corporate Accountability,

[15] In 2006 the OECD itself accepted that countries with very different levels of regulation had experienced equal levels of success in generating employment. (OECD (2006) Job Study accessed at,3343,en_2649_33927_36261286_1_1_1_1,00.html

[15] A 2011 US Economic Policy Institute research paper concluded that regulations do not have a negative impact on the job market and can sometimes spur job creation

[16] TUC Risks, 14 May 2011 accessed at

[17] Santia H&S Consultancy, May 11, 2011 accessed at

[18] TUC (2010) The Case for Health and Safety

[19] HSE (2008) Economic Analysis Unit appraisal values accessed at

[20] Defra (2006) Reach Partial Regulatory Impact Assessment after Common Position accessed at

[21] HSE (2008) The costs to employers in Britain of workplace injuries and work related ill health in 2005/6 accessed at

[22] TUC (2004) The Union Effect accessed at

[23] Hazards Magazine ( 2006) Consultation, Consultation accessed at There is evidence from the UK and elsewhere that such arrangements can be effective.

[24] This includes work currently being undertaken by the STUC, Scottish Hazards Campaign and the SCHWL to improve OH&S management and increase worker involvement in OH&S in the not for profit sector.

[25] This includes : workers in hazardous industries and their local communities; those in unorganised workplaces; those working in SMEs; those new to work (and young workers); those with disabilities; older workers; home and agency workers; those living in areas of deprivation; those from ethnic minority communities; migrant workers and refugees; those working in the voluntary/community and social enterprise sectors.

Prepared 20th September 2011