Inspectors dismayed at HSE funding whitewash

Inspectors dismayed at HSE funding whitewash

The government‘s dismissal of a select committee call for adequate resources to safeguard UK workers will give rogue employers the green light to continue maiming and killing employees, the HSE inspectors’ union said today (Thursday).

The comments follow publication today of the government’s response to the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee report into the work of the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) and Executive (HSE).

On behalf of 1,750 members in HSE, Prospect’s General Secretary Paul Noon said: "Despite Gordon Brown’s assertion that safety at work is the mark of a civilised society, the government seems determined to ignore the funding crisis facing HSE.

"This is the second select committee in 12 months to find that the UK’s safety watchdog needs more resources for additional inspectors, yet the government persists in claiming that funding levels are sufficient. This seems to be delusion on the scale of the emperor’s new clothes.

"Our members want a strong and vibrant HSE able to make a real impact on the toll of suffering in the workplace. But their morale has been battered as the squeeze on funding restricts what they can achieve."

Commenting on the announcement, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: "The select committee released a thoughtful and informed report. Unfortunately the Department for Work and Pensions has taken almost nothing on board from its many recommendations, except those it would be doing anyway. The TUC is particularly disappointed that ministers have chosen not to act decisively on stronger rights for safety representatives. This move would have cost nothing but would have a major impact on reducing injury and ill-health in the workplace.

"Recent research from the TUC has revealed that almost four in 10 workplaces (39%) have never been inspected by an HSE or local authority inspector. The TUC calls for more inspection and enforcement activity and for greater resourcing of both the HSC and local councils to enable them to be more effective in their health and safety work."

Stephen Kay, chair of Prospect’s HSE branch, said: "The government’s refusal to back the call for proper resources for inspection and accident investigation ignores the stack of evidence that enforcing the law is the most effective motivator for business to improve health and safety standards.

"This report is riddled with selective interpretation of evidence, unfounded assertions and the rewriting of history. It seems to herald the further decline of health and safety protection for the UK workforce and the public, and the ascendancy of those wishing to see business unfettered by rules on whether or not they continue to kill and maim their employees."

The Commons committee report, published in July, backed Prospect’s call for the number of Field Operations Division (FOD) inspectors to be doubled at an estimated cost of £48m a year.

In evidence to the committee Prospect highlighted how HSE’s annual cost of £260m compares with £2 billion paid out in compensation and industrial injuries benefit each year. Taking into account lost production, increased labour costs and costs to the NHS, ill-health and injuries at work cost the UK an estimated £31 billion per year.

Prospect has campaigned for additional resources for HSE after the 2002 spending review imposed swinging cuts across all HSE departments. Frontline staff in FOD were hardest hit, with the loss of 50 workplace inspectors. Overall numbers in FOD across the UK are now set to drop below 500.

Update:Prospect has now produced a more comprehensive critique of the government's response to the select committee report.