MAD MAN Business secretary Vince Cable is angry that firms are being made to abide by criminal safety laws and has promised to get inspectors off their backs. It’s a potentially fatal error. An exclusive Hazards analysis has revealed that the majority of workplace deaths occur in sectors excluded from preventive HSE inspections [see: Where no-one cared to look].
Vince Cable is unhappy. He sees businesses quaking at the prospect of a big-stick wielding, enterprise killing safety inspector dropping in uninvited. On 10 September 2012 the Secretary of State for Business announced exactly what he intended to do about it. Shops, offices, pubs and clubs, he said, will no longer face “burdensome” health and safety inspections, and over 3,000 regulations will be scrapped or overhauled.
In future, businesses will only be inspected if they are operating in high risk areas, such as construction, or if they have a poor record. “Removing unnecessary red tape and putting common sense back into areas like health and safety will reduce fears and costs for businesses,” Cable said. “We want to help give British business the confidence it needs to create more jobs and support the wider economy to grow.”
The plan to end Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspections in ‘lower risk’ workplaces repeats changes already implemented under the Department for Work and Pensions’ March 2011 ‘Good health and safety, good for everyone’ strategy. But Cable’s plan includes a legally binding statutory code, to be introduced in April 2013, explicitly outlawing proactive inspections of in all but ‘high risk areas’.
HSE will also be required to ensure local authority regulators abide by the non-inspection directive. Business minister Michael Fallon said this wasn’t just a paper policy, as the government “will be holding departments’ feet to the fire to ensure all unnecessary red tape is cut, and we can boost the jobs and growth that our economy needs.”
HSE is a willing victim
Cable and Fallon needn’t have worried about HSE. It’s already gone way beyond the requirements of the incoming code and has stopped unannounced inspections in many higher risk workplaces too – including agriculture, quarries and plastics. The safety watchdog, though, has been unforthcoming about which workplaces are exempted and why. It has never fessed up to all the sectors on its internal ‘no-go’ list.
CABLE TIES When business secretary Vince Cable announced the government would introduce a binding code in April 2013 to ban regulators from conducting inspections in all but “higher risk areas” he claimed this would “reduce fears and costs for businesses.” While it may be true that business have a fear of being regulated, even when this activity is to stop criminal and potentially deadly breaches of safety law, there is no evidence this will reduce costs. On the contrary, a growing body of evidence has established good health and safety laws properly enforced are good for the community, the public purse and the bottom line. [more].
Three months of questioning from Hazards, spanning September to November 2012 and including two detailed Freedom of Information requests, failed to garner the requested HSE documentary evidence “to support an overall reduction in levels of proactive and reactive inspections and enforcement activity.” In a 13 November 2012 response HSE said only that the reduction in proactive inspections was “in line with the government policy as set out in ‘Good health and safety, good for everyone’.”
It was less forthcoming still on its evidence in support of stopping preventive inspections in many high risk workplaces. A Freedom of Information request from Hazards had sought “arguments and evidence for excluding sectors including agriculture and quarries from preventive inspections.”
HSE could supply neither arguments nor evidence. A 17 October 2012 response noted: “With regard to your request for evidence-based analyses and arguments on which decisions on preventive inspections were based, the information is not held in the form of documentation you request.”
BLOODY MISTAKE Government plans to leave most workplaces exempt from unannounced, preventive safety inspections have been condemned by unions. [more]
Instead, repeating verbatim an 11 September 2012 response from HSE head of corporate communications, Sarah Dean Kelly, the HSE FOI response said: “HSE’s approach to inspection and wider intervention is shaped by intelligence from a range of sources,” adding: “HSE has recently published sector-specific strategies on its website which provide the rationale as to the scope and mix of HSE’s proactive intervention activity.” It added: “Other documents that you may find useful, and are available on our website, are: Sensible health and safety - the regulatory methods used in GB; Successful interventions with hard to reach groups; Evaluation of the impact of FOD interventions.”
The HSE communications chief had attempted to draw a line under Hazards’ enquiries in September, refusing to respond positively to repeated requests for the actual evidence, instead providing a statement claiming that HSE has the “intelligence” but not choosing to share it. In a 12 September 2012 email, Sarah Dean Kelly said: “You have your answers.”
But Hazards had only HSE’s response. In subsequent inquiries and Freedom of Information requests HSE wouldn’t or couldn’t provide the answer to the questions. The evidence supporting the watchdog’s no inspections policy for even some notoriously dangerous workplaces, if it existed, wasn’t in any of the identified sources.
The shocking truth
Hazards analysed the official documents identified by HSE, the government’s ‘Good health and safety, good for everyone’ strategy and the 16 sector-based strategies HSE said explained the rationale behind its regulatory retreat. None of these HSE sources present a health and safety case for cutting inspections. Nor do they provide evidence the HSE withdrawal will not lead to more injuries or ill-health or to firms evading justice when they deliberately flout criminal safety law. Instead, they reinforce the message that inspection and enforcement should be the first resort when it comes to protecting the workforce.
Perming information from these and other HSE sources, Hazards can for the first time reveal a consolidated list of jobs exempted from routine, preventive inspections [see: The workplace sectors without inspectors]. Some, like agriculture and transport, are acknowledged by HSE to be among the most deadly sectors around. Others, like docks, are much more dangerous than HSE seems to realise (Hazards 117).
None are inherently safe, and relying on common sense – Vince Cable’s preferred alternative to enforcement – leaves unprotected and out of view those workers whose employers lack either the common decency or the sense to implement or invest in safe work. And the now seriously-dated sources cited in HSE’s defence of its shift from inspection and enforcement turn out to be no defence at all.
Sensible health and safety - the regulatory methods used in GB, published in September 2004, notes: “Inspection and enforcement are highly effective in ensuring workplace compliance. They will remain at the heart of our strategy.” It adds: “Our evidence confirms that enforcement action is an effective means of securing compliance and promoting self compliance, and its use underpins and amplifies the other actions we need to take… The proportionate use of enforcement also provides equitable conditions for all business to operate in, and ensures those who do comply with the law are motivated to continue doing so. We will use our enforcement powers to hold rogue businesses to account and promote a just and fair society in our area of responsibility.”
INSPECTIONS DOCKED Dock work has been declared low risk and preventive Health and Safety Executive inspections have been for the most part stopped. In March 2012. Hazards asked if the docks are so safe, how come the death rate is running at several times the national average? It turns out HSE’s docks strategy is informed by dud data. [more]
Summarising the evidence for different approaches, the ‘Sensible health and safety’ report concluded: “We can say that the effectiveness of all the methods we use stems from an effective regime for inspection, investigation and where needed, enforcement of the law. Beyond that, it is difficult to rank them, as they are mutually supportive and reinforcing.”
The report reiterated that alternative approaches were a complement, not an alternative, to inspection and enforcement. “The evidence also suggests that education and awareness raising combined with support from intermediaries are effective for small firms, particularly when backed by real prospects of inspection (and, by implication, enforcement),” it noted.
Successful interventions with hard to reach groups, a 2003 HSE report presented in support of HSE’s back-step from inspection and enforcement, notes this: “Research with some of the hardest to reach employers indicates that fear is the principle driver for improving standards: fear of prosecution, litigation and loss of customers. The manufacturing sector provides an illustration of this.”
The successful interventions report cites the example of an HSE an initiative to encourage SMEs [small and medium sized enterprises] to use a web based auditing package by providing mentoring support. “In spite of widespread publicity through a diverse range of channels, there was almost no interest and the scheme did not proceed. The sector has concluded that these SMEs didn’t want HSE near them, and you need ‘the implied threat’ of inspection to make them interested.” Under the current government strategy, much of the manufacturing sector is exempted explicitly from unannounced inspections.
Evaluation of the impact of FOD interventions, published by HSE in 2004, outlined ‘a priority programme plan for agriculture’ that included: “To continue to protect workers through a targeted inspection and investigation programme.” Under the current government strategy, all of the agricultural sector is exempted explicitly from unannounced inspections. A similar programme plan for health services, another sector exempted from preventive inspections, called for: “Targeted FOD [HSE’s front line Field Operations Division] safety management inspections of poor performing or high-risk NHS trusts and large private hospitals.”
The interventions study added: “There is much information available on the effectiveness of inspection. In particular Construction Division has undertaken research into this area internally and by Amey Vectra which had produced a tool for inspectors to use in evaluation. Conclusions are that inspection has a measurable effect on health and safety performance. Other studies endorsed this finding in other sectors and with various types of organisations.”
Fewer inspections, less action
The withdrawal from inspection and enforcement activity was never evidence based. The government’s 2011 ‘Good health and safety, good for everyone’ strategy tied HSE’s hands. It stated: “HSE will reduce its proactive inspections by one third (around 11,000 inspections per year) through better targeting based on hard evidence of effectiveness based on these categorisations.”
The government called on HSE to cut inspections by a third, and the watchdog duly obliged. But it wasn’t a move based on “hard evidence”; potentially harmful safety consequences were not a meaningful consideration. With government-imposed funding cuts resulting in a drop in HSE staffing from 3,702 employees in April 2010 to 2,889 in June 2012, HSE couldn’t maintain anything like the same inspection levels even if it wasn’t barred from doing so. The safety regulator covering 900,000 workplaces now conducts just 20,000 inspections a year (Hazards 119).
Workplace safety inspections by local authority inspectors have declined even more dramatically, with HSE admitting it was a process driven by ministerial instructions and not reasoned evidence-based strategy.
A paper considered at HSE’s December 2012 board meeting noted: “The estimated figures for the 2012/13 work year indicate that local authorities will have reduced their unannounced proactive inspections to 16,400. This is a drop of 86 per cent since the baseline year of 2009/10 against which we are assessing how local authorities have responded to ‘Good health and safety, good for everyone’ which was launched in March 2011 and the Joint HSE/LGA statement on reduced proactive inspection which was issued in May 2011. The returns indicate that local authorities are responding to the government's reforms seeking a 35 per cent reduction of proactive inspections.”
The HSE paper states that “there is still an issue with targeting in a large percentage of the inspections are to lower risk premises.” This prompted the TUC to comment: “Once again the HSE is confusing low injury with low risk. Many local authority premises have high levels of occupational illnesses, most of which go unreported.
“Inspections are an important way to ensure that employers get the support and help they need, but are also a way of ensuring that those who are clearly putting their employees' health at risk face sanctions. Rather than trying to copy the HSE's bad practice, local authorities should be ensuring that all premises they inspect have the prospect of a regular inspection.”
One million reasons HSE is wrong
An estimated 1.1 million people said they were suffering from an illness caused or made worse by their work in 2011/12, latest Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics show. The watchdog said there were 452,000 new cases of work-related ill-health in the total. A further 700,000 people were suffering from an illness which was caused or made worse by their work. [more]
The government has no intention of letting that happen. Local authorities and HSE are increasingly invisible in the workplace as a result, and Vince Cable’s plans for a non-enforcement code to take effect in April 2013 will make the guaranteed non-appearance of inspectors the rule, not the exception.
It is not just proactive inspections that have dropped. The chances of HSE investigating why a body got to be mangled at work has dropped by 40 per cent in five years, according to official figures obtained by Hazards. Just 1-in-20 major injuries is now investigated.
In 2006/07 there were 33,300 reported fatal or major injuries in HSE-enforced workplaces, with 2,841 of these, or 8.53 per cent, investigated. By 2010/11 the number of reported fatal or major injuries had risen to 36,062, but the number investigated had fallen to just 1,844, or 5.11 per cent. The percentage resulting in any HSE enforcement action – a prosecution or an enforcement notice – fell from 2.14 per cent to 1.54 per cent.
A high risk strategy
HSE’s inspection-lite strategy excludes many of the UK’s most dangerous sectors from unannounced inspections. A 3 September 2012 request from Hazards on ‘High risk areas where inspections are deemed to be ineffective’ by HSE had sought “an explanation of your arguments and evidence for excluding sectors including agriculture and quarries from preventive inspections.”
A 7 September 2012 response noted: “HSE's strategic approach to inspection is developed as part of a wider intervention strategy. This is an iterative process based upon analysis and evidence comprising (but not limited to): Nature of intrinsic sector-related hazards; Rates of injury and ill health; Sector-specific factors and context, eg. numbers of people employed, structure of the sector etc.
For agriculture, HSE directed Hazards to four papers presented by HSE staffers to HSE’s board, dating from May 2009 to September 2011. None, though, provided evidence in support of abandoning preventive inspections, just confirmation that this is what HSE had done. HSE pointed to an HSE quarries programme of work to support its decision to abandon preventive inspections in this sector. Again there was no evidence at all to justify withdrawing from inspections in the sector, in fact no indication at all this this was HSE’s intention.
An HSE spokesperson told Hazards: “No sector will be 'immune' from inspection. The relative priorities of industry sectors for proactive inspection is reviewed on a regular basis, as these are subject to change in response to evidence of poor performance, or changes in levels of sector-related risks.”
The government’s ‘Good health and safety, good for everyone’ strategy and HSE’s sector strategies directly contradict this. The government’s 2011 strategy refers directly to “those sectors where there remains comparatively high risk but proactive inspection is not considered a useful component of future interventions; and those areas where proactive inspection is not justified in terms of outcomes.”
It adds, “based on current analysis”, the non-inspection categories are: “Areas of concern but where proactive inspection is unlikely to be effective and is not proposed eg. agriculture, quarries, and health and social care; and… Lower risk areas where proactive inspection will no longer take place. These areas include low risk manufacturing (eg. textiles, clothing, footwear, light engineering, electrical engineering), the transport sector (eg. air, road haulage and docks), local authority administered education provision, electricity generation and the postal and courier services.”
NEUTERED WATCHDOG The effective enforcement of workplace health standards is being undermined by government cost-cutting measures packaged as recession-busting cost-benefit calculations, an independent report has concluded. ‘Regulating Scotland’, a detailed Stirling University analysis of environmental and workplace health and safety enforcement trends, warns that ideology rather than evidence is behind cuts in enforcement agencies including the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). [more]
This government instruction has percolated down into HSE’s sector strategy documents. There may be exceptions, but the rule would be don’t worry, there won’t be an inspector dropping by unannounced. The HSE manufacturing strategy splits the industry into four categories, two of which describe “sectors with only reactive inspections”. On the no-go list are “higher and medium-risk industries” where HSE says there will be a “focus on role of intermediaries” and “where HSE intervenes directly with dutyholders it is likely to be reactive action.” Included in this category are the plastics, rubber, mineral, ceramics, glass, glazing, cement, concrete, bricks and paper and board industries, and parts of the food and drink and fabricated metal products industries.
HSE’s manufacturing strategy is ‘principally reactive’ in “lower risk industries or
declining industries with (relatively) few at risk”, regardless of the risks. Among those falling in this category comes the leather, laundries, computer, electronic and optical products and textiles industries.
The HSE electricity sector strategy says bluntly the watchdog will undertake “only reactive inspections.” It adds: “HSE will support industry in delivering the aims of this strategy through joint working with stakeholders. Whereas general proactive inspection is not justified in this sector, reactive HSE investigation and enforcement will remain. Through the life of the strategy there may be specific exceptions where proactive inspections may be identified as necessary.”
WHERE NO-ONE CARED TO LOOK
Since the government’s March 2011 strategy took effect, the majority of workplace deaths occurred in sectors where Health and Safety Executive (HSE) no longer undertakes routine preventive inspections.
• Total worker deaths from April 2011 – 29 October 2012: 258
• Deaths in uninspected sectors: 40 (2012/13 incomplete) plus 77 (2011/12) = 137 [53.1 per cent]
• Deaths in inspected sectors: 35 + 69 = 104 [40.3 per cent]
• Deaths in sectors where the inspection situation is unclear: 7 + 10 = 17 [6.6 per cent]
[see full annotated list of worker fatalities]
Even some of the most deadly sectors exempted from routine unannounced inspections. The HSE agriculture strategy notes there is a presumption against proactive inspection, which “is a very resource intensive and a relatively inefficient form of regulatory intervention for geographically dispersed sectors such as agriculture and the wider land-based industries.” It adds that “on occasion, there may be an evidence-based justification for carefully targeted proactive inspection in parts of the sector in support of the wider aim of promoting the importance of managing health and safety.”
A Hazards analysis of worker fatalities in the wake of the government’s March 2011 ‘Good health and safety, good for everyone’ strategy, shows that of the 258 deaths recording in HSE statistics for 2011/12 and for 2012/13 up to the end of October 2012, over half were in sectors no longer subject to preventive, unannounced HSE inspections. A total of 137 (53 per cent) were in uninspected sectors, compared to just 40 per cent in routinely inspected sectors, with the remainder occurring in jobs where the enforcement situation is unclear [see full annotated list of worker fatalities]. There were 78 construction deaths in this period, or 30 per cent of the total. Deaths in sectors not subject to preventive HSE inspections make up over threequarters (76 per cent) of the 180 non-construction worker deaths.
An unhealthy disregard
There’s another deadly problem. When the government refashioned HSE’s role, it left ‘health’ out entirely. The ‘Good health and safety, good for everyone’ blueprint does not touch on occupational health – but work-related health problems kill at least 100 times more workers than ‘accidents’. HSE’s enforcement priorities don’t take account of these health risks, however deadly. It doesn’t even mention inspection and enforcement in its cancer strategy, for example.
CANCER CONUNDRUM Occupational cancers are deadly and costly – so why is so little done about them? Stirling University’s Professor Andy Watterson says HSE should end the ‘sterile debate’ on risks and instead take real action on prevention.
See: Cancer costs
The plastic industry, which HSE considers is “higher or medium risk”, is a case in point – it is on the do-not-inspect list, despite its poor safety rating and worrying evidence about serious cancer and other occupational disease risks.
Britain’s biggest employer, the health service, is also out of bounds. It’s a sector that has more than its share of manual handling risks and an ever present threat of violence. But the now officially ignored 1.4m worker-strong service also exposes its staff to all manner of potentially terminal health risks, from bloodborne diseases to carcinogenic cytotoxic drugs.
HOSPITAL CASES Whether your job involves curing people or curing rubber, HSE doesn’t want to know. Most jobs are now on HSE’s official ‘don’t visit’ list.
HSE, though, is now incapable of dealing with health issues even if it wanted to, and has for most practical purposes dropped the ‘H’ from HSE. There has for years been concerns about a dangerous haemorrhage of staff from HSE’s medical wing, the Employment Medical Advisory Service (Hazards 100). The service had 120 staff in the early 1990s, half doctors and half nurses. By 2007, this had fallen to seven full-time equivalent doctors and 25 nursing staff, prompting HSE union Prospect to warn at the time that any future cuts “will spell its death knell… and could also breach the government's national and international legal obligations.”
HSE’s medical function and its legal obligations now appear to have been thrown out the window. By 2012, now rebranded the Corporate Medical Unit (CMU), HSE was reduced to two and a bit occupational physicians and 18 nurses. The watchdog is required by law to provide occupational health cover including comprehensive medical surveillance to keep tabs on worker exposure to some of the deadliest substances – including lead, asbestos and other carcinogens - and workplace environments around.
Prospect said the safety regulator was also dangerously low on specialist inspectors with, for example, the safety watchdog reduced to four specialist radiation inspectors, covering and industry with 120,000 workers, “even though there are 280 deaths a year from occupational exposure to radon and widespread non-compliance with the Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999.”
The HSE inspectors’ and specialists’ union has also warned that proposals to amend RIDDOR - the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 – will mean the safety watchdog will ditch almost all occupational health-related inspections. Prospect estimated 90 per cent of HSE occupational health inspections will cease as a result of a planned change to the law. Only the much rarer work-related biological diseases, including Q fever, rabies and Legionnaires’ disease, would remain reportable.
The HSE consultation, which ended on 28 October 2012, proposes removing the requirement on employers to inform HSE of conditions including certain strain injuries, poisonings, vibration diseases, dermatitis and occupational cancers, dust diseases and asthma.
LEGIONELLA LESSON When routine preventive inspections stop, catastrophic industrial disease outbreaks can follow. Legionella inspections by HSE and local authorities plummeted in the three years to 2011. In 2012 outbreaks in Edinburgh and Stoke-on-Trent led to over 120 cases of Legionnaires’ disease and five deaths. In December 2012, HSE indicated a comprehensive inspection plan was to be reinstated. [more]
HSE chief executive Geoffrey Podger responded that “it is wrong to claim” occupational health is not an “important part of HSE’s work” anymore. He says HSE now makes use of external specialists and “has changed the way it carries out its duties in relation to occupational health issues.”
But there are concerns HSE’s reliance on poorly supervised independent appointed doctors paid for by employers is a system vulnerable to abuse. And occupational health is absent from the government’s March 2011 ‘Good health and safety, good for everyone’ strategy, the document defining HSE’s current deregulatory, hands-off work priorities.
Unions believe the business secretary’s plans to codify HSE’s non-enforcement strategy will worsen HSE’s occupational health blindspot. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber warned: “The UK is facing an occupational health epidemic. This epidemic will only be stopped by ensuring that employers obey the law, and when every employer knows their workplace can be visited at any time.”
It is not though either unions or occupational disease victims that have the ear of ministers. It’s the business lobby. CBI, EEF, the Institute of Directors, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and the Federation of Private Businesses (FPB) all welcomed Cable’s plan.
Life may get a bit easier for the business lobby; it might however get a bit shorter for the rest of us.
Business delighted by Cable’s attack on ‘red tape’
When business secretary Vince Cable announced the government would introduce a binding code in April 2013 to ban regulators from conducting inspections in all but “higher risk areas” he claimed this would “reduce fears and costs for businesses.” While it may be true that business have a fear of being regulated, even when this activity is to stop criminal and potentially deadly breaches of safety law, there is no evidence this will reduce costs. On the contrary, a growing body of evidence has established good health and safety laws properly enforced are good for the community, the public purse and the bottom line.
The business lobby though appears unaware of this, perhaps because a process of ‘cost-shifting’ shunts the majority of the cost onto the victim, the community and the public purse. CBI, EEF, the Institute of Directors, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and the Federation of Private Businesses (FPB) all welcomed Cable’s plan.
Alexander Ehmann, head of regulatory policy at the Institute of Directors said: “Removing the headache of health and safety inspections for low-risk businesses is a step change. Scrapping unnecessary and unpredictable inspections is a valuable piece of deregulation and the government are to be congratulated for taking such bold and decisive action on behalf of Britain’s businesses.” Stephen Radley, director of policy at EEF said: "Burdensome health and safety rules are a drag on business. Cutting back on them is vital.”
Dr Adam Marshall, director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC): “Reducing the burden of health and safety red tape will be welcome news to many businesses, and is a win for common sense. The BCC has long argued for a risk-based approach to health and safety, with a less onerous regime for companies with low-risk workplaces. These measures mean that law-abiding, low-risk businesses can live without the constant threat of time-consuming and costly inspections. It's a sensible change whose time has come.”
Government ‘will have blood on its hands’
Government plans to leave most workplaces exempt from unannounced, preventive safety inspections have been condemned by unions.
Commenting on measures announced by business secretary Vince Cable in September 2012, to take effect in April 2013, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “It is simply absurd to describe the health and welfare of people at work as a burden. Instead of giving a green light to employers to make their workplaces more dangerous, ministers should be investing to ensure people are not put at risk when they go to work.”
RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “This isn't about cutting red tape, it's about cutting the throat of safety regulations and the trade unions will mobilise a massive campaign of resistance.”
Urging the government to rethink its plans, CWU general secretary Billy Hayes said: “The government will have blood on its hands if these dangerous cuts go through.” He added: “Cutting pro-active inspections could be disastrous. Moving to a reactive system would mean that people would have to be injured, become ill or die before any inspection took place, rather than preventing these incidents happening in the first place.”
GMB national safety officer John McClean said the announcement was “a regurgitation” of a government policy that “will not promote growth and could well lead to an increase in accidents at work.” He added: “Current laws in this area were not enforced very strongly anyway. The burdens will now fall on individuals and society in suffering and cost.”
NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: “No case has been made for the attack the coalition government has launched on health and safety provisions.” She said it was “another ideologically driven policy… where hard fact and evidence are, quite frankly, ignored. The drive to deregulate health and safety is a return to the dark ages when the lives of working people had no value.” UNISON said supposedly low risk workplaces could have high levels of work-related health problems.
UNISON’s James Randall said: “The government does not take into consideration occupational ill-health such as musculoskeletal disorders and work-related stress, which are the most common types of ill-health in so-called low risk workplaces, and account for more than threequarters of all work-related injuries and illness currently suffered in the UK.”
Stopping dock inspections was based on dud data
Dock work has been declared low risk and preventive Health and Safety Executive inspections have been for the most part stopped. In March 2012. Hazards asked if the docks are so safe, how come the death rate last year was several times the national average? (Hazards 117).
To be in line with the national fatality rate of 0.6 deaths per 100,000 workers, docks should experience no more than one death a year. In recent months, the industry has had a fatality rate of around one a month. Depending on which employment figure you use, the last year’s death total means docks are running at a fatality rate of at least five times and possibly over 20 times the UK average.
HSE’s difficulties with its figures, though, mean it is statistically oblivious to the carnage. The deaths are there – it’s just HSE doesn’t know they are there. Hazards identified a series of deaths that had not made it into the deaths column that in part informed HSE’s hands-off strategy. The deaths and injuries are continuing, with a Middlesbrough dock worker was killed on 9 September 2012.
Bob Harrison, 59, was working on the Bright Ocean ship docked in Irvine’s Quay, Hartlepool. He was supervising the loading of large steel pipes into a hold when he fell 30ft down a hatch, hitting the steel floor of the ship’s hold.
One million plus reasons HSE is wrong
An estimated 1.1 million people said they were suffering from an illness caused or made worse by their work in 2011/12, latest Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics show. The watchdog said there were 452,000 new cases of work-related ill-health in the total. A further 700,000 people were suffering from an illness which was caused or made worse by their work. The overall work-related ill-health toll was down from 1.2 million cases in 2010/11.
The figures also showed that there were 212,000 over-3-day absences and 27 million working days were lost due to work-related illness and workplace injury. Construction, agriculture and waste and recycling were the highest risk sectors.
The 2011/12 figures reveal HSE-issued enforcement notices have fallen from 11,038 in 2010/11 to a 2011/12 figure of 9,910, a drop of over 10 per cent. The latest provisional figures show 680 prosecution cases were heard in Great Britain in 2011/12, with 1,165 offences prosecuted, a drop of 3 per cent from the previous year. Of these, 968 offences, or 83 per cent, resulted in a conviction.
Health at risk as watchdogs are neutered
The effective enforcement of workplace health standards is being undermined by government cost-cutting measures packaged as recession-busting cost-benefit calculations, a new independent report has concluded. Regulating Scotland, a detailed Stirling University analysis of environmental and workplace health and safety enforcement trends, warns that ideology rather than evidence is behind cuts in enforcement agencies including the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). It says this has led to a dramatic decrease in official inspections and enforcement of both environmental and workplace safety standards.
The report warns that workplace health and safety inspections across the UK are now so infrequent it is unlikely most workers will ever encounter an inspector in a working lifetime. It is also critical of ‘better regulation’ policies, which it says have pulled the teeth of the watchdogs charged with protecting workers, communities and the environment. The report notes that the ‘burdens on business’ case used to justify the hands-off deregulatory approach is based on ‘skewed’ cost-benefit calculations that fail to factor in the much greater financial benefits of proper enforcement of regulations.
Report author Professor Andrew Watterson said: “Failure to act now to improve poor regulation and enforcement elevates a spurious business costs argument above a real and substantial cost to human health, society and the public purse.” The report warns that a lack of official oversight of safety and environmental standards could lead to a process of ‘regulatory capture’, where largely absent and resource-starved enforcing agencies are reliant on self-regulation by companies, trusted to monitor and report on their own performance. It says this process was implicated in the Piper Alpha and Deepwater Horizon disasters.
Stirling University news release. Regulating Scotland: What works and what does not in occupational and environmental health and what the future may hold, Research Report from the Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group, Centre for Public Health and Population Health Research, Stirling University, September 2012. Executive summary.
HSE rethink on legionella inspections
When routine preventive inspections stop, catastrophic industrial diseases can follow. Both the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authorities were criticised in 2012 for a dramatic decline in preventive inspections for legionella risks. The number of proactive HSE inspections for legionella – the bacteria responsible for the disease - across the UK fell from 833 in 2009 to 464 in 2011, a drop of 44 per cent. There has been a similar decline in local authority legionella inspections.
Concerns about the dangers of this lack of official scrutiny heightened after deadly outbreaks of Legionnaires' disease in Scotland and England in 2012 (Hazards 119). In the worst outbreak, in Edinburgh, over 100 people were affected and three died. Two died and over 20 were affected in a second outbreak in Stoke-on-Trent.
Labour MP Joan Walley raised the issue in the House of Commons on 10 September 2012 and called for ‘pre-emptive inspections’ to be made the basis of public health action. She told MPs that in the light of the government’s policy of cutting inspections to remove a ‘burden’ on business, “we have to ask whether one person’s unnecessary burden is somebody else’s death sentence.”
But as recently as October 2012 a spokesperson for safety minister Mark Hoban was defending the dramatically curtailed level of legionella inspections. By December 2012, however, it was clear the reduced enforcement position was unsustainable. A 7 December HSE news release announced businesses and organisations with cooling towers in the west of Scotland were to undergo checks to ensure they are managing legionella risks, in a pilot that is expected to be rolled out across Britain.
HSE has indicated it is liaising with councils on plans to visit all cooling towers and evaporative condensers in Britain over the next 18 months.
The inspection flip by HSE raises questions about how the regulator decides its inspection priorities. Does it take deadly disease outbreaks affecting the public and the associated unwelcome media scrutiny before preventive inspections are reinstated? And what happens where the harm is restricted to workers and spread thinly but fatally across the entire nation?
Work-related cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other commonplace and frequently deadly occupational diseases have not triggered nationwide preventive inspection programmes. This suggests it is the level of embarrassment and not the level of harm that forced the legionella rethink.
Sectors without inspectors
Hazards has compiled the first consolidated A-Z of workplaces exempted from unannounced preventive Health and Safety Executive inspections. If your job’s not here, it doesn’t mean you are protected. Local authority enforced sectors like offices, shops and pubs and clubs are also on the no-go list.
Education provision [local authority]
Fabricated metal products
Glass and glazing
Other food and drink
Other manufacturing industries
Paper & board
Since the government introduced its inspection-lite strategy in March 2011, these workers have died in the sectors without inspectors.
05/04/2011 Jason Reynolds
08/04/2011 Steven Mills
18/04/2011 Michael Moran
20/04/2011 William Wilson Boow
06/05/2011 Paulo Almeida De Silva
14/05/2011 Norman Robertson
25/05/2011 Mohammed Shakeel Abu
02/06/2011 Robert Broome
02/06/2011 Andrew Jenkins
02/06/2011 Dennis Riley
02/06/2011 Julie Jones
11/06/2011 Graeme Mackie
13/06/2011 Alexander Banks
14/06/2011 Christopher Stanley
19/06/2011 Brian Newton
19/06/2011 Donald MacDonald
03/07/2011 Konrad Miskiewicz
11/07/2011 Michael Wickstead
13/07/2011 David Astley
15/07/2011 Paul Gray
15/07/2011 Craig Whipps
19/07/2011 Ahmet Yakar
27/07/2011 Ronald Meese
05/08/2011 Colin Ellwood
08/08/2011 James Steel
08/08/2011 Alan Young
09/08/2011 Odediyah Eastwood
18/08/2011 Adrian Roberts
24/08/2011 Ieuan Evans
02/09/2011 Martin McGlasson
11/09/2011 Luke Yardy
11/09/2011 Grant Kinnie
12/09/2011 Wallace Hale
12/09/2011 Simon Mann
20/09/2011 Lee Woodhouse
21/09/2011 Jeffrey Lee Jameson
24/09/2011 John Stoddart
14/10/2011 Stuart Reynolds Weekes
20/10/2011 William Watt
22/10/2011 Lee Baker
23/10/2011 Ian Stuart Campbell
26/10/2011 Peter Hunt
27/10/2011 Damian Bowen
28/10/2011 Arthur Ebirim
04/11/2011 Dennis Barron
05/11/2011 Mark Bullock
08/11/2011 Edward Arthur Davies
08/11/2011 Sean Cunningham
11/11/2011 Christopher Morris
17/11/2011 Alexander McCrae
21/11/2011 Alexander Hamilton
22/11/2011 Simon Homer
04/12/2011 John Reid
16/12/2011 Neville Wightman
19/12/2011 Neville Bloss
21/12/2011 Hugh Edward Percy Jones
22/12/2011 John Mackinnon
03/01/2012 Harold John Hitchcock
13/01/2012 Jonathan Kent
23/01/2012 Daniel Lobb
23/01/2012 Keith Harrison
27/01/2012 Timothy Elton
01/02/2012 Nasir Hussain
08/02/2012 Ewen McGregor
11/02/2012 Hayat Khan Akahil
26/02/2012 Francis Alwyn Grassby
28/02/2012 Phillip Eggerton
06/03/2012 Andrew Davis
06/03/2012 Malcolm Hinton
09/03/2012 Paul Davidson
12/03/2012 Linda Keens
12/03/2012 Andrew Bowes
13/03/2012 Terry Bailey
15/03/2012 Roderick MacLean
15/03/2012 Leslie Buller
21/03/2012 Omar Patel
28/03/2012 Alistair Hislop
30/03/2012 Bryan John Pownall
02/04/2012 Kevin McDonald
05/04/2012 Frederick Foster
19/04/2012 Graham Duff
24/04/2012 Michael George Young
27/04/2012 Zydre Groblyte
01/05/2012 David Dow
15/05/2012 Asta Juodiene
21/05/2012 Geoffrey Wheadon
25/05/2012 Gordon White
26/05/2012 Daniel Brown
30/05/2012 Martin Channon
30/05/2012 Roman Kohut
14/06/2012 Wayne Crerar
24/06/2012 Mark Walker
09/07/2012 James Leech
10/07/2012 John Newham
19/07/2012 Craig Gray
19/07/2012 David Henry Arthur Thomas
24/07/2012 Michael Richard Gynn
26/07/2012 Joseph Troup
27/07/2012 George Jarron
02/08/2012 Gareth Aitken
02/08/2012 Colin John Collins
03/08/2012 Philip Davies
18/08/2012 Linda Cannon
21/08/2012 Geoffrey Prime
28/08/2012 David Westwater
05/09/2012 Thomas Cooper
06/09/2012 Malcolm Harrison
09/09/2012 Robert Harrison
17/09/2012 Alan Frame
25/09/2012 John Walmsley
30/09/2012 George Falder
05/10/2012 Joseph Merddyn Lewis
07/10/2012 John Frederick Frossell
14/10/2012 John Jack
18/10/2012 Dean Henderson-Smith
24/10/2012 Spencer Powles
25/10/2012 Eric Simpson