On behalf of 1,750 inspectors and professionals in HSE, Prospect welcomes the committee’s recognition that maintaining safety requires enforcement and training, and more HSE inspectors. But it questions how HSE can fulfil any additional demands on its resources at a time when budget cuts have lead to the loss of 50 trained frontline inspectors.
HSE branch chair Stephen Kay said: "Port work is the most dangerous land-based industry in the UK with a rate of nearly 3,000 accidents per 100,000 workers – even higher than construction which is a major area of concern for HSE. We agree whole-heartedly that measures to increase safety for port workers are vital, and more inspectors are needed. But they must not be introduced at the expense of other HSE departments already seriously understaffed and under resourced."
The select committee report, published on 13 November, comes as chronic underfunding has forced HSE to pull inspectors from other divisions to meet the demands placed on the Railways Inspectorate in the wake of a succession of high profile accidents. The Field Operations Division (FOD) has been the hardest hit and is to lose 50 of its 590 front line inspectors, reducing the number of investigations and inspections it carries out by 10,000 per year.
Kay said: "HSE needs additional resources. Previous experiences have proved the dangers of skewing funding provision according to screaming headlines. After the Piper Alpha disaster, extra resources were pumped into offshore safety at the expense of other parts of HSE.
"But robbing Peter to pay Paul does not work. The only answer is to ensure all parts of the executive are properly funded. Instead, the government is imposing cuts which threaten to bring the organisation to its knees."
HSE already plans to reduce the number of investigations into major injuries at work and the time spent on cases it does investigate, having instructed its inspectors to "conclude investigations as early as possible."
Plans to reduce the criteria that prompt an accident investigation are also being piloted in the north-west of England prior to being rolled out across the country. Under the new criteria an employee could suffer a scalping, serious multiple fractures or lose the top of up to three fingers before an inquiry is even launched in his or her workplace.
The £260m allocated to HSE for 2003 amounts to less than 20p a week to protect each of the UK’s 27 million workers, while the budget allocation for the next three years equates to a 10 per cent reduction in real terms.