From the TUC

Health and Safety Executive – Reviewed to death?

09 Jan 2014, By

inspector

Since 2010 we have seen health and safety reviewed to death. First there was the Young review, then the “red-tape challenge” followed by the Loftsted review. All of these more or less said health and safety regulation was important and broadly OK although a few changes needed to be made. Some of those we did not like but more that often it was because of how the government interpreted the recommendations. This was certainly the case on issues such as civil liability and reviews of guidance, where they often went well beyond what was proposed.

Now we have review number four. It is called the Triennial review and it was published today and is 100 pages long and was written by the head of the Employers’ body the EEF. And, surprise surprise, once again we have a report that is broadly very helpful.

Among other things it says:

“Working in partnership with others, as intended by Robens, is at the heart of how HSE works. This approach has stood the test of time and there was near universal agreement that the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 remains valid and is fit for purpose.”

It says that the functions of HSE remain necessary and it must be independent. On Europe he confirmed that

“I did not receive any evidence that suggested HSE gold-plated EU legislation in British legislation.”

On the issue of developing regulation he again praises tripartism (unions employers and government working together) by saying

“In both development of standards and submitting proposals for legislation, HSE’s strength was seen to be its technical expertise and its access and contact with all the relevant stakeholders (employers and employee representatives).”

Much of what he says on enforcement is also very positive, although he sidesteps the issue of proactive enforcement and levels of enforcement without making any recommendations.

On guidance he expresses concerns over “dumbing down” and comes out in support of ACoPs which the TUC welcomes.

The report is critical of the lack of action by the HSE on tackling ill-health, but it is unfortunate that there are no real recommendations. He just asks for “new and innovative ideas for interventions”.

The report is also critical of employers for using the “Health and well-being agenda” as an alternative to prevention work on issues such as stress and MSDs. It also says that the HSE should be doing more on occupational health issues.

All pretty good. Of course it is not all good. It says that employers should be able to pay for the advice of an inspector. This is because most employers never see an inspector now that most proactive inspections have been phased out. (The answer would be ensure every workplace is inspected). The report also fails to address government and political involvement or the lack of resources, while the proposals on governance are not really helpful and do not address the real problems.

So a mixed bag, but nevertheless a lot better than many people expected, and more importantly it is a strong affirmation of the need for a strong health and safety system backed up by enforcement and good guidance covering not just injuries but also occupational diseases.

However, clearly this was not what the government wanted to hear.

Because it did not recommend privatising parts of the HSE or allowing companies freedom from inspection (as some have asked for) and also did not dismantle the tripartite approach to health and safety the government are saying that the report has not gone far enough.

In response to the report, the Minister, Mike Penning said he would

“want to go further to introduce reforms of HSE to ensure that it delivers value for money to the taxpayer, whilst ensuring safety for the nation. There is considerable potential for HSE to become more commercial in outlook and in delivery – increasing the pace of the work already started within the organisation. Therefore, I have asked HSE to begin work immediately to examine commercial models for HSE in collaboration with HMT and Cabinet office, and to review the HSE Board to ensure it has the right skills to oversee future efficiencies and commercial income generating options. “

So once again they have asked a question and because they do not like the answer they are going to go ahead with what they clearly wanted to do anyway. They have also indicated that they will not respond to other parts of the triennial review until later in the year.

As a result the HSE is once again in limbo and upheaval. Their previous Chief Executive left last summer and has not been replaced. They went through a recruitment process and then, at the last minute, after interviews had been held, Ministers decided to scrap it to wait until after the review. Now presumably they are going to try to appoint someone who will share their zeal for greater commercialisation.

Four reviews on and we have an HSE that has seen cuts in their budget by well over a third, no Chief Executive, a demoralised staff and now a government that says it is going to come up with even more proposals to undermine it. Meanwhile workers continue to get injured, killed and made ill by employers who are being told by their Government that health and safety is over-regulated and over-complied with.

The full review can be downloaded here as a pdf document.