The union that represents 1,750 inspectors, scientists and other professionals in HSE has condemned the government’s decision to slash the executive’s budget which will cut to the heart of its role to ensure workplace safety.
Its grim message to the UK’s 27 million workforce that the cuts to HSE threaten their safety at work has been issued on this year’s Workers Memorial Day, (April 28) held to mark those employees killed by their work.
Plans to reduce spending in 2003-04 have led to HSE being told to make 5% cuts across all departments by October, with the result that 50 inspectors due to leave in the next year will not be replaced. HSE has refused to rule out compulsory redundancies.
The impact will hit frontline staff in the Field Operations Division (FOD) hardest as, in addition to the 5%, FOD needs to recoup £1.3m it was encouraged to spend over baseline in the last financial year in order to recruit.
Prospect members are alarmed at the impact the loss of these posts will have on workplace safety – 50 inspectors carry out around 10,000 inspections and investigations per year.
The TUC has also condemned the government for slashing HSE’s funding while "squandering billions on compensation" to employees. The UK’s bill for compensating victims of accidents at work presently costs eight times the HSE’s annual budget.
The dire shortfall means that in order to meet the cuts, HSE is:
- freezing inspector and specialist recruitment even though figures for 1999-2000 reveal a 34% increase in work-related deaths
- rationing technical training for inspectors to enable them to tackle workplace crime
- leaving many posts unfilled thereby increasing the demands placed on other staff.
Steven Kay, chair of Prospect’s HSE branch, said: "HSE have reached a position where its ability to fulfil its mission statement – ‘to ensure that risks to people’s health and safety from work activities is properly controlled’ – is in doubt.
"Workers expect to see their workplaces inspected by qualified experienced staff. The loss of 50 inspectors will clearly lead to fewer inspections and investigations."
Other HSE departments also face a cash crisis. The Railway Inspectorate has only just received an extra £4m necessary to meet the work identified in the Cullen report into the Ladbroke Grove rail crash and this will run out in two years; while the Hazardous Installations Division is struggling to undertake anything other than chargeable work and inspectors are being drained from FOD to do more work as a result.
These latest cuts come only a year after Prospect launched a campaign highlighting how years of insufficent funding for the executive meant many workplaces had escaped inspection for years on end.
In its campaign, Prospects for Safety, the union called for an additional £35m a year to double the number of safety inspectors and ensure workplaces are inspected at least every five years. Currently, employers can expect to be visited once every 10-15 years, if at all.
Richard Hardy, Prospect negotiator for HSE, said: "Safety inspectors were initially encouraged when the government launched its Revitalising Health and Safety strategy in 2000. Our campaign was for a small annual investment, but one which would save the economy billions of pounds and many individuals the misery of poor health.
"Three years later, it is clear that the 2004 targets for reducing work-related accidents and ill health will not be met and the Executive faces another cost-cutting exercise. This is the opposite of joined-up government."
The union will be raising the issues facing HSE in meetings with ministers in the near future.
HSE’s annual budget for 2002/03 is £258m, but under the spending review plans no allowance has been made for inflation or other increasing costs over the next three years. These will leave HSE with a 10 per cent drop in funding – (£262m for 2004 and 2005 and £260m for 2006)
The compensation budget totals around £2 billion a year (65% paid out in compensation court cases and 35% paid by the state in industrial injuries benefit).
Prospect represents HSE safety inspectors, including factories, mines, nuclear, rail, chemicals, construction, off-shore and agriculture inspectors as well as scientists and other professional and technical staff.
For more information on the Prospects for Safety campaign visit our document library.