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       Hazards special online report, March 2014
Your safety is for sale: Review finds HSE is fit for purpose; minister has a fit
The government has lost patience with reviews of the safety system that rather annoyingly find regulation and enforcement are a good idea. After the latest concluded the Health and Safety Executive is ‘fit for purpose’ ministers decided to ignore the irrefutable evidence and ‘commercialise’ the official safety system anyway.

RIGHT FSB  David Cameron told the Federation of Small Businesses his government would continue to “scrap over-zealous rules,” adding: “This government has already stopped needless health and safety inspections.” But the Triennial Review required by the prime minister reported that the rules were fine and firms missed their visits from HSE. more

When ministers hand-picked Martin Temple to head up the Triennial Review of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) they had high hopes he’d brand the watchdog a burden-mongering, innovation-stifling monster to be summarily slayed.

Temple is chair of the manufacturing industry lobby group EEF and its former director general. EEF’s February 2013 report, Making health and safety work for business: Removing unnecessary health and safety burdens, seemed to speak minister speak. The accompanying EEF news release noted “the cost in terms of time and money of complying with health and safety regulation is increasing and manufacturers’ views of its benefits and of their relationship with regulators has become substantially less positive.”

The review was a big deal. If Temple didn’t like what he saw, it could mean the end of HSE, under the government’s December 2010 Reducing regulation made simple plan to “sunset” regulations and regulators that were no longer deemed necessary or whose functions could be hived off elsewhere.


Good watchdog

Martin Temple though, did like what he saw. His report published three months late on 9 January 2014 emphasised the important role HSE plays in reducing injury and ill-health caused by work, concluding it was “fit for purpose.” Temple declared “unequivocal” support for HSE, stressed the importance of its regulatory role and called for a renewed push to prevent occupational diseases.

His report noted: “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).”

The report also opposed the government driven “dumbing down” of guidance. “Simplicity is welcomed, dumbing down is not,” it said.

It was also critical of the fee for intervention (FFI) scheme, used by HSE to help plug a gaping funding chasm, “creating the impression that HSE has an income target to achieve.” This has made firms suspicious of HSE’s motives and more reluctant to seek its advice. The report added that FFI had “damaged HSE’s reputation for acting impartially and independently, and thereby its integrity as a regulator.”

Far from wanting more reform to get HSE off their backs, Temple found firms wanted to see more of HSE. They were unhappy with David Cameron’s decision to axe what the prime minister characterises as “needless” unannounced inspections. Temple’s report notes: “A consequence of the reduction in HSE proactive inspections is that HSE is not spending as much time engaging with those organisations with a mature health and safety management system. They are concerned that they do not get enough HSE time/support in stimulating and assisting them deliver continuous improvement in their performance and that of their supply chain – which they see as integral to their business philosophy and sustainability.”

But most galling of all for ministers was the report’s outright rejection of the privatisation of HSE functions, noting an HSE which is a “non-departmental public body remains the appropriate delivery model.”


The great HSE sell off

The Triennial Review uncovered a smörgåsbord of pro-HSE sentiments that safety minister Mike Penning found entirely unpalatable. Insiders say on seeing the draft report, the apoplectic minister put pressure on Temple to change his conclusions to justify stripping HSE of some or all of its role, delaying the publication for months while the arm-twisting continued.

DANGEROUS TALK  David Cameron has ensured most firms never get to see an HSE inspector. Now he wants to legalise potentially deadly safety crimes where they are committed by the self-employed. more

Temple, though, stood firm. And when the publication finally emerged, Penning was ready with his response. His 9 January 2014 ministerial statement said the government wants “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 [the Treasury] 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.”

The Triennial Review is the latest in a resource-sapping series to examine the health and safety system, following the Young and Löfstedt reports and the ‘Red tape’ challenge.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “There was huge support from all those who responded to the review for the work of the HSE as a public body. We believe that, given the scale of injury and illness across UK workplaces, the government should not undermine the ability of the HSE to meet that challenge.”

TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said HSE had been “reviewed to death”, adding: “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.” He said the last minute government decision to scrap the recruitment process for a new HSE chief executive after final interviews had taken place – with acting chief Kevin Myers one of those snubbed - suggested the government now intended to “appoint someone who will share their zeal for greater commercialisation.”

The government all along wanted a regulator neutered or reformed to the point of irrelevance. It’s just the evidence stubbornly refused to support this.

The pretence has now finished, and the fear is HSE could be too.



Attack on safety to continue says Cameron

David Cameron has confirmed health and safety will remain a major target of his deregulation drive. He told a business event that 800 regulations had already been scrapped, as well as “needless” workplace health and safety enforcement.

In a 27 January 2014 speech to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), the prime minister said: “This government has already stopped needless health and safety inspections. And we will scrap over-zealous rules which dictate how to use a ladder at work or what no-smoking signs must look like. We’ve changed the law so that businesses are no longer automatically liable for an accident that isn’t their fault. And the new Deregulation Bill will exempt 1 million self-employed people from health and safety law altogether.”

Safety campaigners and safety professionals denounced the prime minister’s continuing attack on workplace safety protections. Hilda Palmer of the UK national Hazards Campaign said: “No-one supports pointless bureaucracy or rules for their own sake. But much of the ‘red tape’ Cameron is slashing and trashing is not imposed by mindless bureaucrats but carefully thought out, devised, evaluated and agreed by the HSE with industry and unions, to protect not only workers but the public and the environment.”

Richard Jones of safety professionals’ body IOSH said: “It would be a shame for legislation to be scrapped that could set us back as a society. The reality is that we need more action to prevent occupational cancers, diseases and road deaths, not less.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Stripping self-employed workers of health and safety protection – when construction is riddled with bogus self-employment scams – will make injuries more likely. And removing any obligation on employers to protect their staff from sexual and racial harassment by customers sends a very clear signal whose side the government is on.” She added: “The real problems facing small businesses are an economy that has been slow to recover due to austerity economics and the continuing failure of banks to lend.”

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Self-employed exemption gets even scarier

The government’s plans to exempt most self-employed workers from the ‘burden’ of safety law is a really bad idea that just got even worse, the TUC has warned. Head of safety Hugh Robertson said the “daft” exemption was originally going to apply to those that “pose no harm to others.”

But a February 2014 reworked draft in the Deregulation Bill flips this on its head and states: “It shall be the duty of every self-employed person who conducts an undertaking of a prescribed description to conduct the undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practical, that he and other persons (not being his employees) who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health.”

So the government wants all self-employed workers to be excluded from the scope of criminal safety law unless they appear on an inclusive – and short - prescribed list.

Hugh Robertson describes the draft list as “frightening”. Those not on the very restricted list “will have no responsibilities for the health and safety for others and will not be able to be prosecuted, regardless of how dangerous their actions are,” he said, adding: “Given that the current self-employed have a fatality rate of well over double that of employed workers this can only make things worse – far worse.”

The list of self-employed jobs to remain subject to safety law “excludes huge areas with self-employed people in dangerous occupations such as those working in the entertainment industry building sets, vehicle repair, haulage, people in docks and almost all of manufacturing,” he said. “Even those areas that are covered are hardly clear. Construction for instance, makes no reference to those working in people’s homes, such as plumbers, carpenters and electricians.

“Of course self-employed people killing themselves is a tragedy, but that is not what this proposal is about. The HSE has never prosecuted a self-employed person who killed or injured themselves. It is the danger to others that the HSE has tried to control, not only of death but also occupational disease and injury. Under the new proposals anyone not in the list will not be able to be prosecuted if they kill or injure someone, however negligent they are.”

IOSH public affairs adviser Andrew Baldwin described the government plan as “dangerous”. He said the self-employed “aren’t required to notify their premises to the health and safety enforcer; those with fewer than five employees aren’t required to have written policies or written risk assessments; and the self-employed are exempt from the requirements of the Display Screen Equipment Regulations. So where is the burden?”


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After the latest review of the workplace safety system concluded the Health and Safety Executive is ‘fit for purpose, ministers decided to ignore the evidence and ‘commercialise’ the regulator. The government all along wanted a regulator neutered or reformed to the point of irrelevance. It’s just the evidence stubbornly refused to support this. The pretence has now finished, and the fear is HSE could be too.



Good watchdog
The great HSE sell off


Attack on safety to continue says Cameron
Self-employed exemption gets even scarier

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