‘Health and safety: a regulatory revolution?’ aimed to provide a forum for debating the Löfstedt review (whose findings were released on 28 November), plans to extend charging for inspections, and the government’s deregulation agenda.
Jim Sheridan, chair of the all-party health and safety parliamentary group, opened discussion by condemning tabloid efforts to portray health and safety as another measure of red tape and said Prospect was trying to educate people on the dangers of this approach.
“It’s a fundamental right for people to leave their homes in the morning with the clear understanding that they have the right to return home safe and uninjured.”
Prospect deputy general secretary Mike Clancy said the HSE had been subject to endless reviews, all showing legislation was fit for purpose and the HSE good at combining developmental and remedial work with enforcement – despite declining resources.
Prospect welcomed Löfstedt’s finding that he had neither seen nor heard evidence to suggest “radically altering or stripping back current health and safety regulation.”
Professor Löfstedt had been with senior Prospect representative and inspector Simon Hester, when he commented: “You guys save lives.”
There could be no greater validation of the HSE’s work, yet the 35 per cent cut to its budget provided an enormous challenge to management, employees and the people served by HSE.
Citing recent statistics – 171 workers killed last year, 2,321 dying of mesothelioma, 1.2 million work-related health problems and 26.4 million lost working – he said the job was not over. “Our vision for the future is: no more ‘elf ‘n safety’ myths, let’s have evidence-based policy-making. Let’s have no more reviews for a while: it would be quite good if HSE could get on with its job.”
Prospect HSE branch chair and inspector Neil Hope-Collins, also an inspector, warned government policies would “have consequences, whether intended or not, that will be damaging and detrimental.”
Businesses liked the fact that HSE was an approachable, accessible organisation from which they could get “knowledgeable, relevant, pragmatic solutions, preferably before the event, so people go home healthy at end of day.
“Our concerns are that current government policies will damage HSE’s profile, capacity and engagement with business and stakeholders.”
Cutting proactive inspections by a third would be a ‘huge hit’ for industry, he said, with vital intelligence and local knowledge lost.
While not against cost recovery, members feared it would rely on targeting based on reported incidents. “We fear the new policy will target those who want to be compliant, and the rogues will still fly under the wire.”
Stephen Timms MP agreed there was a lot to welcome in Löfstedt’s report. But he took issue with the idea that the HSE should no longer have a brief in the area of self-employed people. “This means the HSE could no longer produce advice for them and that would be a worry.”
MPs and Lords: Bob Blackman (Harrow East), Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West), David Crausby (Bolton North East), Ian Davidson (Glasgow South West), Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton), John Healey (Wentworth), Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North), Jonathan Lord (Woking), Jim McGovern (Dundee West), John Robertson (Glasgow North West), Jim Shannon (Strangford), Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) who chaired it, Stephen Timms (East Ham) who spoke, Lord Boswell of Aynho. Other stakeholders: Andrew Baldwin (Institution of Occupational Safety and Health), John Ballard (Occupational Health at Work), Emily Carder (Department for Business), Jonathan Holvey (Department for Work and Pensions), Martin Isles (Mineral Products Association), Richard Jones (IoSH), Peter McCormick (Energy Networks Association), Kevin Myers (deputy chief executive, HSE), Geoffrey Podger (chief executive, HSE), Dan Shears (GMB), Steve Sumner (Steve Sumner Associates), Terry Woolmer (Engineering Employers Federation). Prospect reps: Geoff Fletcher (HSE branch secretary), Simon Hester (vice-chair), Neil Hope-Collins (chair)