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SAFETY WATCHDOG REFUSES TO BITE
SAFETY WATCHDOG REFUSES TO BITE
Millions of UK workers are being abandoned by the UK’s official health and safety watchdog in its bid to become more “employer friendly”, safety campaigners have discovered.
‘Total suck up’, a new report from national safety coalition the Hazards Campaign, includes a ‘forensic analysis’ of recent Health and Safety Executive (HSE) policy shifts backed up by responses to over 20 detailed Freedom of Information Act requests. It concludes “HSE has become the watchdog that doesn’t want to bite.” The report lists “10 reasons why HSE top brass make us sick” and calls on HSE to take a lead on safety issues (see below).
The report, to be presented to new HSE chief executive Geoffrey Podger on 14 February along with a ‘We love enforcement’ Valentine’s card, accuses the watchdog of going walkies from its legal duty to enforce criminal safety law in its haste to adopt the government’s business-friendly ‘better regulation’ agenda.
“Prosecutions and convictions for safety offences have dropped dramatically because the safety police are no longer looking for the safety criminals,” says Hazards Campaign spokesperson Hilda Palmer. “The number of charges brought and convictions gained have both dropped by over a third since HSE adopted its new business-friendly strategy, far outstripping the tiny reduction in injuries and ill-health.”
The report says HSE claims to be exploring ‘alternatives to enforcement’, including more ‘naming and shaming’ of safety offenders. But the Hazards Campaign has discovered HSE has recently started ripping up large chunks of its ‘naming and shaming’ database, in a weekly cull of records. At the same time it is showcasing major safety criminals on its website as examples of exemplary boardroom behaviour. The report says private companies are also making millions out of HSE as more and more of its work is contracted out, with this external spend of over £26m now consuming almost 10 per cent of the watchdog’s annual budget.
According to ‘Total suck up’, other new alternatives to enforcement include HSE’s LOPP programme (Large Organisations Pilot Project), which is inviting companies to undertake “self-regulation”. Four of the first five companies to sign up to the scheme, which will soon emcompass 1m workers, have had recent criminal safety convictions. And the Workplace Health Connect scheme, to be launched next week by the government, will carry HSE’s brand but is an entirely private government-funded £20m programme which will undertake thousands of advisory workplace visits but will undertake no enforcement activity.
Hilda Palmer of the Hazards Campaign says: “The argument for strong enforcement and regular workplace inspections is that it saves lives and catches safety criminals. The only argument for HSE’s new strategy is that HSE is doing the government’s bidding, regardless of the deadly consequences. This has to stop – safety enforcement at work is a law and order issue, not an optional extra.”
’Total suck up’ lists 10 reasons why HSE top brass makes us sick
1. A criminal record HSE is ditching large chunks of its “naming and shaming” database, going well beyond the requirements of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, including expunging the criminal records of dangerous corporations, despite these not being subject to the Act.
2. HSE loves bosses HSE is happy to give free PR to major companies – even those guilty of serious safety breaches. Some serial safety criminals are featured on the HSE website as examples of exemplary boardroom practices.
3. See no evil HSE’s strategy is
informed by a gross under-estimate of the harm caused by work. Its estimates
miss hundreds of thousands of cases of occupational disease, including
several thousand occupational cancer deaths each year.
4. Don’t look now HSE is shifting
away from inspections and the inspections it does undertake are not what
they used to be. Inspectors now undertake quickie single topic inspections,
instead of giving a workplace a thorough evaluation. Get one thing right
and a firm may get a clean bill of health. The majority of major injuries
at work do not result in a visit from an HSE inspector.
5. Reluctant regulator Enforcement action by HSE has declined dramatically. Doing fewer inspections means its spots fewer safety crimes which means fewer prosecutions and fewer convictions. “HSE brought 712 prosecutions in 2004/05, down from 928 in 2003/04. It secured just 673 convictions, down from 887 the preceding year.
6. Cash giveaway Consultants are making millions out of HSE and this “external spend” has increased massively. HSE’s spend on external health and safety related consultancies has increased year-on-year from £19.9m in 2000/01 to £26.2m in 2004/05, up from 8.2 per cent of total budget to 9.6 per cent in 2004/05. Several consultants and making millions from HSE contracts.
7. You do it HSE is determined to shift to more self-regulation, where firms can opt-out of formal enforcement – and massive trials of this approach are already underway. One project alone, LOPP, will take at least 1m workers outside of HSE’s enforcement and inspection reach.
8. Pilot privatisation The new Workplace Health Connect programme is a “pilot privatisation” of HSE. The project is entirely government funded and entirely privately run, despite masquerading as an HSE initiative.
9. Blind faith not facts HSE has neither the data nor the research to justify its shift away from enforcement – infact research shows inspection and enforcement work best. Instead of formulating policy and practice on the basis of hard information, it has sacrificed its independence and is blindly following the government’s deregulation push, abandoning safety inspections in favour of arms-length advice and cosy “partnerships”.
10. Tomorrow’s world The new health, work and well-being strategy pushes “lifestyle” health promotion at work to the fore, with prevention of work hazards taking a back seat. www.hazards.org/workandhealth
NOTES TO EDITORS
PHOTO OPPORTUNITY: A ‘scene of crime’ will be established over the ‘dead body’ of safety enforcement, from 9am to 10.30am. Campaigners will invite HSE chief executive Geoffrey Podger to receive the ‘We love enforcement’ Valentine’s card at 9am.
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