How the Government buries good news: HSE and Europe
Yet another report has been published which praises the effectiveness of the Health and Safety Executive. This time it is over their approach to Europe. It follows the Loftsedt, Temple and Young reviews which all said the HSE was doing a good job.
So how come you have not heard of this one? Well, probably because the Government is trying hard not to publicise it. There is no announcement in parliament, no press release. It simply appeared on the DWP website after the Government sat on it for six months, despite having received Freedom of Information requests for it from Hazards magazine several months ago.
Now I can understand the Government trying to bury bad news, but why bury good news? The reason is that, for the Tories, the HSE actually delivering on Europe is not good news. They want to be able to attack the EU for producing all those ridiculous regulations which the HSE then “gold-plates” and which results in a huge cost to British Industry, so a report saying that this is not happening is hardly what they want to hear.
They set up this review because they wanted to be able to use the report to attack both the EU and health and safety in general. They commissioned it immediately after Martin Temple, who is head of the Employers body, the EEF, produced his report which gave the HSE a clean bill of health. Presumably they thought that if someone like Martin Temple is not going to deliver they will have to just to write it themselves, which is more or less what they did. They asked a DWP official, Kim Archer, to produce the report, so the result must be pretty awkward for them. However, given the evidence, the outcome was inevitable.
So what did the report say? Well a lot of it is an analysis of the HSE’s track-record in Brussels where it negotiates on behalf of the Government on new regulations. The report says that the HSE has done the UK governments bidding and scrupulously followed the deregulatory line. The conclusion is that “HSE takes a resilient approach, and brings considerable professional expertise to bear in challenging unjustified or ill-informed legislative proposals”.
The report also says that, where the regulations have been implemented in the UK, there has sometimes been “gold-plating” (going beyond the minimum required), but that this is good for Britain because it makes the regulations fit better into the UK system. It gives the asbestos regulations as an example. However it says that there has been no gold-plating not in the interests of business.
And as for health and safety regulations harming British industry? Well, not according to the evidence. British Industry seems to have no problem with what the HSE is doing. In fact, with a couple of exceptions, they do not even have a problem with what Europe is doing.
It is not the HSE, but industry itself which seems to be shooting itself in the foot. The report gives one example of where the EU introduced regulations on biocides which allowed companies to exempt if they produced evidence. In the case of copper, not one British company bothered to do so, then complained to Ministers when their product became illegal. Needless to say, it was the HSE that had to get the companies out of that hole they had dug themselves.
Finally the report says that there is absolutely no grounds for Britain refusing to implement any of the proposed EU regulations on health and safety, although that may be because the Government has managed to water them all down already.
Of course what the report did not do is ask how the HSE is protecting workers interests, or ask whether Britain might actually be a safer place if the Government stopped opposing new regulation. Safety outcomes were not part of the remit which was all about “the interests of business and the UK growth agenda”, and to trade unionists it is of course of grave concern that the HSE is not taking a more positive, pro-safety, stance in Europe.
In summary, the Government, once again set up an inquiry to try to get ammunition that they could use against two of its big bogeymen, health and safety and Europe. They failed miserably so, once they were forced to publish it, they slipped it out on a Friday without even a press announcement.