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       Hazards special online report, March 2016
How it became unsafe to leave policy to the safety regulator
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has just completed a consultation on its safety strategy. Scratch that. It was not a consultation, it was a ‘conversation’, says Hazards editor Rory O’Neill. The new strategy is no more than a brochure highlighting vague themes decided before the talking even began.

 

In December 2015, the Health and Safety Executive invited ‘leading industry figures and other key influencers’ to join a ‘conversation’ on the future strategy for Great Britain’s health and safety system.

The parameters of this conversation had been decided in private HSE discussions including the business lobby group EEF. The invitation to join the conversation listed the six pre-ordained themes the five-year strategy would cover:

HSE chair Judith Hackitt, stepping down as HSE chair on 31 March 2016 and becoming EEF chair on 4 April 2016, said: “We’re starting a conversation with a wide range of influencers – including employers, workers, local and central government, unions, other regulators and key representative groups – because it’s important that this is a strategy for all, shaped by all.”



DOUBLE YOUR MONEY WITH UNION REPS Allowing union reps time off to represent their members improves staff retention, reduces illness and boosts industrial relations, a Bradford University analysis of official figures has shown. The February 2016 report for the TUC concludes every £1 spent on paid time off for public sector union reps to represent their members, taxpayers get at least £2.31 back in savings. But this union effect is under direct attack from the government. [more]

Safety minister Justin Tomlinson said: “In government, we are determined to build a more productive Britain, one that rewards hard work and helps all to benefit from the opportunities of economic growth. It is essential that health and safety is part of that, supporting British employers in their ambition and supporting workers who want to get on.”

He added: “Taking sensible steps to keep workers safe and well is something that the best-run businesses do. It’s good for people, it’s good for productivity and it’s good for growth.”

There’s the rub. Your health and safety is not an end in itself. It is part of a wider government growth agenda. But this is also a dishonest agenda.

 

The ‘con’ in conversation

HSE’s six point strategy was set in stone before the conversation kicked off in January. HSE told Hazards these strategic themes were finalised “late last year”, but added the roadshows “helped shape the content, which was written over the last three weeks of February.” It said the conversation continued online until the publication of the strategy.

But when the final version emerged at a Battersea Power Station launch on 29 February 2016, the threadbare content of the 12-page, 3,500 word strategy document Helping Britain Work Well 2016 was detail free, contained no concrete proposals, plans, targets or outcome measures and indistinguishable from materials published prior to the ‘conversation.’

Nonetheless, the final HSE strategy document states it was the product of ‘nationwide engagement.’ It notes: “These strategic themes were discussed with key players – representing all sectors and organisations with an interest in health and safety – during a nationwide engagement programme in January and February 2016.

“The feedback suggested unanimous support for the overarching objective to help Great Britain work well.”

Only this is a lie. The seven HSE ‘conversations’ around the country starting in Glasgow on 18 January and ending in London on 2 February were so selectively advertised many people have told Hazards they knew nothing about their local event until it was underway. ‘VIP breakfasts’ before each were an invitation only affair.

Nor did the feedback suggest “unanimous support”. Critical comments made at the roadshow meetings reflected concerns raised publicly by Hazards via the HSE’s twitter discussion at #HelpGBWorkWell.

Hazards posed ‘Six questions for HSE’, which were consistently top tweets:

HSE’s desire for a real conversation stopped short of answering a single one of them. 
The safety regulator thought it could pull this off because this was not a formal ‘consultation’ following strict rules. The conversation was in the open but the decisions were made behind closed doors.

HSE’s strategy webpages opened the conversation with: “We can be proud of Britain’s record on work-related safety and health – it’s one of the best in the world.” This – verbatim – heads the key message of the final strategy document.

To sell this story, the strategy website picked out statistics showing that in the decade since 2004 work-related ill-health, injuries and working days lost have all fallen. But what this hides a worrying recent flip, which has seen a reversal in the long-term downward trend in the harm caused by work (Hazards 132).

There’s a whole lot of questions not being answered by HSE; many more are not being asked.



ET TU BILL
Forty members of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) unions Prospect and PCS rallied outside the regulator’s London office on 10 February 2016 in protest at the government’s Trade Union Bill. Prospect rep Simon Hester said: “The government is ‘reducing red tape and burdens on business’ but shackling the unions in new regulations and obstacles.”

Why is it now one of the bad actors in Europe, arguing against better chemical standards and sometimes in favour of worse ones? How many more lives will be put at risk if unions have their hands tied by government? How can HSE do its job effectively with too few staff and too few resources? And why is HSE shadowing the government’s deregulatory strategy and pulling the rug from under its own regulatory feet?

The answer may be simple. HSE gave up its regulatory independence long ago, sold out its workforce and sold off its services, and left the workforce to pay the price.

HSE has created the illusion of strategy validated by a fake consultation. And this will be its mandate to do whatever it likes.

This was neither a fundamental nor an honest review of a system starting to fail. What emerged isn’t a strategy, it is a brochure.

 

 

Double your money with union reps

Allowing union reps time off to represent their members improves staff retention, reduces illness and boosts industrial relations, a Bradford University analysis of official figures has shown. The February 2016 report for the TUC concludes every £1 spent on paid time off for public sector union reps to represent their members, taxpayers get at least £2.31 back in savings.

The government’s Trade Union Bill seeks to cut the “excessive” number of union representatives - and therefore the amount of facility time available - in the public sector. However, The benefits of paid time off for trade union representatives calculates the savings delivered by unions across the economy could exceed £1 billion every year, falling in a range between £476m and £1,250m.

Prevention of workplace injuries and work-related ill-health is the biggest single contributor to the savings, at 2014 prices the equivalent of £219m-£725m a year. The contribution of the under-threat union safety role in the public sector alone is £130m-£360m.

The TUC argues that the time available to union safety reps to do this work – not classed as facilities time and protected by law – would nevertheless be hit by the government plans, despite assurances to the contrary. The union body says the Trade Union Bill cap on all time for union activities would inevitably leave unions choosing between safety and other union functions. It said this could undermine the well established ‘union safety effect’.

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The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has just completed a consultation on its safety strategy. Scratch that. It was not a consultation, it was a ‘conversation’, says Hazards editor Rory O’Neill. The new strategy is no more than a brochure highlighting vague themes decided before the talking even began.

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