Select Committee on European Communities Seventeenth Report


Letter from Alan Meale MP, Parliamentary Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Thank you for your letter of 21 January[9]. I apologise for the delay in replying to you. My officials have been in touch with yours to keep them informed of the delay.

  You asked for information on (a) the costs to industry of implementing current legislation on explosive atmospheres and (b) the cost of enforcing that legislation.

  On question (a), there are no specific regulations in the UK dealing exclusively with the protection of workers potentially at risk from explosive atmospheres. Current legislation covering this area also covers other hazards, such as fire; storage of highly flammable material, etc. It is not therefore possible to separate the costs to industry associated with explosive atmospheres from the overall costs of compliance with the broader regime.

  For similar reasons it is also not possible to give the costs for effective enforcement. Effective enforcement takes a variety of forms, for example guidance and advice, inspection, enforcement notices and prosecutions. Inspectors rarely visit a company to deal solely with potentially explosive atmospheres and records of their visits may or may not state the particular Regulations discussed. Even in situations where regulations which partly cover potentially explosive atmospheres are mentioned, it would be impossible to apportion a set part of the costs to this topic.

  I am sorry not to be able to give you more helpful information on this occasion.

6 April 1999

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Alan Meale MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

  Thank you for your letter of 6 April which was considered by Sub-Committee B at its meeting this morning.

  The Committee was disappointed that it has not proved possible to answer the questions about costs in my letter of 21 January. While we accept that it may be impossible to identify precise costs, we have some difficulty with the notion that no estimate can be made—particularly given the previous emphasis on costs issues.

  Approaching this from a slightly different angle, we should be grateful if you would say whom you consulted over this matter and what reactions you received as to the costs and practicability of the proposal.

29 April 1999

Letter from Alan Meale MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Thank you for your letter of 29 April about the proposed ATEX Directive. I am sorry your Committee found my reply of 6 April disappointing, and for the delay in replying to your letter. As Tony Lord's interim reply of 11 June to Roger Morgan explained, we have been consulting HSE's policy experts and economic advisers in an endeavour to provide as comprehensive a response as possible. You will also now have seen my Department's EM (OTNYR) dated 15 May on the European Parliament's amendments which propose changes to the common position text agreed by Member States on 22 December 1998.

  Your letter of 29 April raised three issues: costs, consultation, and practicability. I deal below with each of these in turn.


  With regard to the cost of enforcing current legislation, HSE has looked at this again but there remain considerable difficulties. The basic probelm is the co-incidence of hazards, and therefore enforcement activity, at the workplace: the following example shows why it is difficult to separate costs of protection against explosive atmospheres from other costs. Workers in a factory may be exposed to respiratory hazards from wood dust. These hazards are covered by the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1988 (COSHH), and the protective equipment provided to deal with these hazards would be covered by the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 1992 (PPE) and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER).

  COSHH applies to the health effects of substances (ie toxic effects), not to explosion hazards. However, wood dust can also form a potentially explosive atmosphere. This means that respiratory protective equipment would also have to be constructed so that it does not ignite the potentially explosive atmosphere. PPE and PUWER also cover such explosion protection. When inspectors visit a workplace in these circumstances they are enforcing all three sets of regulations (and possibly others for health and explosion hazards) at the same time. Their activities on site will be determined by the nature of what they find in each case. So there is no ready way of separating the cost ot explosion protection from providing "other" health and safety protection. HSE's work recording database does not capture the time spent on each particular hazard during contacts. The sophistication required for a work recording system to break down activity in this way would be disproportionate to the benefits.

  The only readily extractable data is in respect of costs for the work undertaken by operational specialist inspectors. This data stems from recorded requests for their advice. The two specialisms most likely to undertake work involving ATEX-related legislation are process safety, and electrical and control systems engineering. ATEX contacts, including the preparation and report writing, made by these inspectors are estimated to cost HSE between £160,000 and £390,000 per year at 1999-2000 prices. But this reflects a small part of the HSE effort on this topic, the bulk of which is carried out by the much larger population of generalist inspectors as part of a wider remit, so would be an underestimate of the total cost of enforcing current law.

  I hope this example helps to clarify the position regarding costs of current legislation. From an economic viewpoint, I do not think that the absence of such information undermines our appraisal of the EC proposals: it seems reasonable to regard such costs as "sunk costs" and to base our appraisal of the additional measures proposed by the EC on the additional costs they might generate. I hope the Committee can agree with this analysis.


  You asked for further information on who was consulted over this matter and what reactions we received as to the costs and practicability of the proposal. HSE has consulted informally throughout the progress of the directive with the TUC, CBI, a range of industrial concerns and public authorities etc. A list of its informal ATEX consultees is attached. I should tell you that these consultees did not provide information on costs of compliance with current legal requirements.

  The consultees took the existing legislation as their starting point and looked at the additional costs ATEX is expected to generate. The HSE Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) uses the current level of compliance with the existing regulatory regime (ie all-inclusive legislation) as its starting point and the detailed RIA indicates the anticipated additional costs of ATEX. Calculating the assessment using such a starting point is standard economic practice and follows Cabinet Office guidelines. You should have received a copy of the RIA with the EM of 15 May (an additional copy is attached for information).


  Finally, practicability. Some consultees offered opinions on the practicability of the proposal, though these were mainly focused on cost. The general reactions of consultees at the main stages of the directive were:

    —  early European Commission texts—were unnecessarily prescriptive, onerous and some parts were impossible to achieve (the texts were not risk based);

    —  common position text—was a clear improvement as it required action proportionate to risk, and removed the more costly and prescriptive duties;

    —  European Parliament amendments—reintroduce prescriptive duties not based on risk, increase costs of implementation for little or no health and safety benefit, and raise some technical concerns (particularly for European Parliament amendment 7).

  I hope you and your Committee collegues will find this letter helpful. I am sorry that I cannot provide direct answers to all your questions but I hope you will understand why.

  I am copying this letter to Jimmy Hood, Margaret Beckett, Joyce Quinn, Ann Taylor, Sir Richard Wilson, the Clerk to your Committee and the Clerk to the Commons European Scrutiny Committee.

Alan Meale

9   Printed in Correspondence with Ministers, 4th Report, Session 1998-99, p 23. Back

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