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       Hazards special online report, September 2014
Our health and safety is not for sale
Incoming Health and Safety Executive head Dr Richard Judge is under government instruction to ‘commercialise’ the watchdog. But a Hazards campaign is urging the new chief executive to ensure the regulator uses its legal powers, people and skills to protect us at work, instead of flogging its services to all-comers.

When the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) marked the 40th anniversary of the Health and Safety at Work Act in July 2014, it was bullish. HSE chair Judith Hackitt said the law “may be 40 years old but it – and our regulatory system - are world class.”

But it is a “world class” system that is being dismantled. HSE is no longer allowed to undertake preventive workplace inspections in most workplaces. Binding legal codes are being ditched in favour of non-binding guidelines. And, under a move the TUC said will “mean more business for doctors - and undertakers,” almost all self-employed workers will shortly find themselves outside of the scope of the law.

TUC head of safety Hugh Robertson said “we have politicians, including the Prime Minister and Justice Secretary, declaring war on the ‘health and safety culture’, calls for Europe to reduce the level of protection of workers employed by SMEs [small and medium sized firms], the withdrawal of a range of Approved Codes of Practice and of course the removal of the threat of inspection to whole swathes of industry.

“Yes, on the 40th Anniversary we need to celebrate the Act but at the same time let’s make sure we are defending it. Our health, and that of future generations, needs it.”

The union safety specialist said HSE’s role was being undermined by “increasing political interference”, adding there is now “far more resistance from the government to the very concept of regulation.”

Wanna buy a watchdog?

There is worse to come for HSE, with government-driven changes going way beyond curtailing core regulatory activities. The watchdog has been told to “commercialise” and peddle its services worldwide to anyone with the means to pay.

Dr Richard Judge (right), who will take over as HSE chief executive in November 2014, was handpicked for this job. The chartered engineer has no substantive experience in a regulatory role, but in his current job as head of the Insolvency Service he has experience of cherry picking and selling off the profitable bits of businesses.

And in the five years prior to taking up the Insolvency Service role in July 2012, Dr Judge steered the government environment, fisheries and agriculture research agency CEFAS through its own controversial commercialisation process. One insider, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Hazards “staff were - and are - under great pressure to pick up research and consultancy contracts to ensure their jobs continue.”

HSE’s drift into consultancy forms part of an explicit government plan to make regulators pay. Late in 2013, on the order of ministers, the first attempt to recruit an HSE chief executive was abandoned six months in, after final interviews had been conducted. The job description for the post was then re-written to emphasise the new chief’s role in “commercialising” the safety regulator.

Construction union UCATT expressed its “disgust and disquiet” at a job advert for “a new chief executive to help lead change in the organisation and take advantage of a range of national and international commercial opportunities.” The union complained that while the job advert mentioned three times that the post holder would be expected to make the HSE more commercial, it omitted any mention of the importance of improving workplace health and safety.

Big sell out

The government had hoped the Triennial Review of HSE would give it a mandate for its HSE reforms. But when the January 2014 review findings concluded HSE was after all “fit for purpose” and declared “unequivocal” support for its regulatory role, ministers were forced to show their hand.

An immediate ministerial response said the government wanted to “go further”, adding: “There is considerable potential for HSE to become more commercial in outlook and in delivery – increasing the pace of the work already started within the organisation.”

In the government’s June 2014 formal response to the report, then safety minister Mike Penning said: “Selling our expertise abroad will not only help businesses and governments to save lives, but, as part of our long-term economic plan, will show the world we’re leading the way in exporting expertise overseas.”

The selection of Richard Judge to lead this change prompted a pre-emptive call from Unite. The union said it was looking forward to working with the new chief executive, but wanted him to stand up for safety. Unite national safety adviser Bud Hudspith said “we are calling on Dr Judge to act as chief executive and ensure more is done to protect workers.”

The prospect of a diversion of HSE resources to money-spinning commercial activities and a further erosion of its regulatory purpose has prompted a new Hazards campaign. A print-out-and-send letter addressed to Dr Judge states “we think the government’s workplace safety regulator should be using its legal powers, people and skills to protect us at work, not flogging its services to all comers to fill a government-imposed funding gap.”

The message to HSE’s new leader is simple. Please don’t pimp our watchdog. HSE should be saving lives, not selling out.


US controversy hits UK Health and Work Service provider

The government’s pick to run the new Health and Work Service in England and Wales is owned by a company under attack for mishandling similar contracts in the US, with allegations it has blocked access to health care and rehabilitation.

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) announced in July that the UK service will be delivered by Health Management Limited. The company, which describes itself as “the UK’s leading occupational healthcare provider,” is part of the US multinational MAXIMUS.  

The firm, which already does medical assessments for the DWP’s Work Programme, is used by California’s state government to provide medical assessments and support for injured workers. This service came under attack from injured workers’ groups at a 14 August 2014 public meeting. The Injured Workers National Network (IWNN) told Hazards that Independent Medical Review investigations conducted by the company to determine workers’ compensation entitlements were “preventing injured workers from getting proper treatment.”

It added California had given a $40m contract to MAXIMUS “to make medical decisions on workers that they have not even examined.” The US workers’ compensation system provides the money to cover rehabilitation, medical treatment and welfare benefits for injured workers.

DWP says under the UK service, employees on sick leave will be helped to return to work by providing them with an occupational health assessment when they reach, or are expected to reach, more than 4 weeks’ sickness absence. Employees will normally be referred by their GPs. A return to work plan will then be shared with their employer and GP.

The service is set to be launched in late 2014 with a phased roll-out scheduled to be completed by May 2015. Minister for welfare reform Lord Freud said: “Providing support where it’s needed most will help to reduce the length of time employees take off sick which, in turn, will cut sick pay costs, improve economic output and reduce the chances of people falling out of work and having to claim benefits. All contributing to the government’s long-term economic plan.”

US Injured Workers National Network.

Fatalities down, work-related deaths up

The number of workplace fatalities in Britain fell last year to the lowest annual rate on record, but deaths overall increased markedly as asbestos cancer deaths soared.

Provisional data released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reveals that 133 workers were fatally injured between April 2013 and March 2014, compared with 150 in the previous year. The overall rate of fatal injury dropped to 0.44 per 100,000 workers, compared to 0.51 in 2012/13.

But while fatalities fell by 17, latest HSE figures for the asbestos cancer mesothelioma showed an increase of 244 deaths between 2011 and 2012, the most recent year for which figures for the asbestos cancer are available. The figures confirmed that 2,535 people died from mesothelioma in 2012, up from 2,291 in 2011. Deaths from asbestos-related lung cancer are generally thought to match or in all probability significantly exceed the mesothelioma figure, which is yet to peak.

Workplace fatalities in agriculture and waste and recycling fell, but increased in construction. Construction union UCATT said the provisional site deaths figure of 42 in 2013/14 was an 8 per cent increase on the previous year, when 39 construction workers suffered fatal injuries. Steve Murphy, general secretary of UCATT, said: “The rise in fatalities should send a chill through the industry and it corresponds with a very modest upturn in construction. All the previous evidence shows that as the industry gets busier deaths and accidents increase.

“These dangers are being exacerbated by the massive cuts that the government have made to the HSE’s budget and their continued attack on safety laws and regulations.” He added: “Rather than cutting safety laws the government should be taking action to ensure that proper measures are introduced to punish employers who are prepared to risk the lives of their workers.”

Deaths in Scotland in 2013/14 were down on the previous year, from 23 to 20, but higher than in either 2010/11 or 2011/12.

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Send a message
to HSE's Dr Judge

If you think the Health and Safety Executive’s new chief executive should spend his time improving workplace health and safety, instead of converting HSE into a cash- chasing semi-retired regulator, tell him.

Print, sign and send our ‘Don’t pimp our watchdog’ letter to Dr Richard Judge at HSE, Redgrave Court, Merton Road, Bootle, England, L20 7HS.  

You wanna buy a watchdog?
Big sell out
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US controversy hits UK Health and Work Service provider
Fatalities down, work-related deaths up

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