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Deadly Business


HSC hands-off safety plan in total disarray

The government's hands-off, business-friendly workplace safety plans are in disarray after all its key points were rubbished by a top all-party committee.

The Work and Pensions Committee's 25 July 2004 report said the number of safety inspectors should be doubled, safety reps' rights should be dramatically improved, a corporate crime bill should be introduced this year and the government should rethink its decision not to impose safety duties on company directors. Committee chair Sir Archie Kirkwood said: "The report is a comprehensive review of the subject which has a common thread: the HSE is under-resourced."

The report was welcomed by unions, who have been strongly critical of HSC's drift from enforcement to an advisory function, slammed as a "virtual amnesty for dangerous employers" (Hazards 86). TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "The government must do what the Select Committee is recommending and give employees better protection at work by introducing new laws on corporate killing and tougher penalties for bosses that commit safety crimes against their workforce."

GMB general secretary Kevin Curran said: "The GMB congratulates the Select Committee on a thoroughgoing report which shines a harsh but fair light on the HSE's current way of working - all woolly targets and management waffle, a jumble of complacency and convenience which is threatening the safety of Britain's workforce." He added: "The Committee has endorsed our view that the only system that works to reduce accidents and injury is a system of vigilance, based on inspection, enforcement and the active involvement of safety representatives."

And HSE union Prospect welcomed the recognition that HSE should be a protected frontline service. Steven Kay, chair of Prospect's HSE branch said: "We wholeheartedly back the recommendations that HSE should not proceed with its proposals to shift resources from inspection and enforcement to fund an increase in education, information and advice."

The Committee report stresses the safety reps' role. It says: "Given the HSE's limited resources, if safety reps were empowered to enforce health and safety law in the workplace, we believe this would have a powerful effect in improving standards. "We also believe this power to take action, should include not just criminal prosecutions but also improvement and prohibition notices, subject to the usual right of appeal to the employment tribunal and as to terms on legal costs."

The work of the Health and Safety Commission and Executive.
House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee. Fourth Report of Session 2003-04
. Volume 1, HC 456, July 2004.

Hazards 87, July-September 2004

What we told Jane Kennedy Minister of Work, 11 May 2004

What we told Bill Callaghan Chair of the Health and Safety Commission (HSC), 28 April 2004