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Oct - Dec 2000
on the ground: Service
sector safety enforcement down: workplace injuries up
authority cutbacks are putting service sector workers at risk of
serious injury. A TUC analysis of accident trends in private sector
service industries has uncovered a direct correlation between local
authority safety inspector numbers and workplace injuries. Cut one,
and the other goes up.
There are 1.2 million workplaces in this sector, with over a million in England alone. Each full-time local authority safety inspector covers an average of 993 premises.
The largest number of premises in the sector are retail shops with 445,000 workplaces, followed by offices and catering services with over 200,000 premises each.
Injury rates in the sector are lower than in those covered by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). But in 1998/99, 12 employees were killed in the sector, and over 30,000 suffered a serious injury - one every three and a half minutes of the working week.
Over the last three years, the number of workers seriously injured in the service sector has increased by 15 per cent (table 1) at a time when injury rates have been falling across the economy as a whole. The picture for ill-health is likely to be even worse.
Between 1996 and 1999, the number of full-time equivalent inspectors in local authorities fell by 24 per cent, and the number of visits they made to premises fell by 20 per cent (see Table 2).
In 1994/95, a service sector workplace could expect a visit from the local authority inspector once every three years. Now, the same employer could expect to be inspected once in every four years, and it's getting worse.
number of inspectors has fallen fastest in Scotland, down from 170
in 1996/97 to 120 last year, a cut of 30 per cent. Numbers have
dropped by 23 per cent in England and 25 per cent in Wales. Over
the last three years, the average local authority inspector in England
has seen their caseload increase by 185 premises (up 22 per cent),
in Wales by 229 (up 26 per cent) and in Scotland by 239 (up 43 per
Since more people are getting injured in work-related accidents, you might expect more prosecutions for breaches of health and safety law. In fact, prosecutions in the local authority enforced sector have gone down, again against the trend in the HSE-enforced sector.
Successful prosecutions by local authorities fell in 1998/99 to 424, down by 16 per cent compared to the previous year.
Like HSE inspectors, local authority inspectors have the power to serve Improvement Notices, Prohibition Notices and Deferred Prohibition Notices.
Overall, the number of notices served in 1998/99 was up on the previous two years, but still well below the level in 1994/95 (table 3). In the three years between 1996/97 and 1998/99 the average number of notices served by local authorities was 5,380 - less than half the number for 1994/95.
Local authority enforcement of service sector safety conditions is under-resourced and sub-standard, with some authorities now failing to meet their minimum legal duties to protect workers, Health and Safety Commission chair Bill Callaghan has indicated.
Revealing the latest official workplace death and accident rates for the service sector at the August 2000 launch of the HELA annual report, Mr Callaghan said: "I would like to see more local authorities treating health and safety as a priority issue when it comes to allocating resources."
There was a "need to see improvements across the board so that all local authorities meet their statutory obligations," he said.
The HSC chair added that local authority enforcement now covered expanding areas of the "new economy", including call centres, retail outlets and the leisure industry, "sectors where occupational issues such as stress, musculoskeletal disorders and violence at work are prevalent."
The report reveals a decrease in the total time spent by local authority enforcement officers on health and safety. Provisional figures for 1999/2000 published in the report show that in these local authority-enforced sectors the total number of work-related fatal injuries to workers and members of the public had increased from 23 in 1998/1999 to 28 in 1999/2000.
2000 HELA Annual Report and HELA National Picture. Free from HSE Books
BLAIR'S BUSINESS-FRIENDLY BLUEPRINT
Over 60 per cent of local authorities in England and Wales and all local authorities in Scotland have adopted the government's voluntary "Enforcement Concordat", which ministers say provides a blueprint for fair, practical and consistent enforcement of regulation.
However, despite having two-thirds of local authorities signed up to the Enforcement Concordat, the initiative, launched in March 1998, has coincided with a haemorrhage of resources from local authority health and safety enforcement.
In Scotland, where all authorities are signatories, the number of local authority safety inspectors has fallen by almost a third over the last three years, a TUC analysis has revealed (see left), with caseloads per inspector up by 43 per cent. Inspector workloads have also risen dramatically in England and Wales.
In a measure reminiscent of the axed business-friendly "minded to" enforcement notices introduced under the previous Conservative administration, the Enforcement Concordat requires that local authority law enforcers publicise complaints procedures and give businesses "a chance to discuss and remedy problems before formal action is taken unless immediate intervention is required."
Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking in August 2000, said he was greatly encouraged by the success of the Concordat: "I recognise the very important role that local authorities play in enforcement of regulations and would like this to be as business-friendly as possible, while maintaining key consumer protections."
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