Plans to charge companies for safety breaches found during inspections by the Health and Safety Executive must be introduced with care, and funds raised must not be syphoned off by the Treasury, Prospect has warned.
The union has told an HSE consultation on extending the principle of cost recovery to new industries that:
- It supports the principle that the HSE should fund more of its costs from employers who create significant risks, but
- It has major concerns about how the new system will be run and the potential disproportionate impact on small and medium-sized enterprises.
Prospect Deputy General Secretary Mike Clancy said: “For years, the HSE has been trying to do the same for less, but now it is reaching breaking point. So the HSE has no choice but to seek new ways to meet its commitments. However, any money raised should be returned to the HSE, to be used, among other things, to avert the loss of key specialist staff because of the government’s 35 per cent funding cuts.”Some sectors, such as nuclear and electricity, are already subject to forms of cost recovery. But Prospect says these are large employers, highly regulated and with developed support systems. The union argues that it is wrong to extend existing models of cost recovery to every organisation.Clancy said: “The HSE proposals for a flat-rate ‘fee for intervention’ will penalise small and medium-sized companies disproportionately. Increasing financial pressure on such companies makes no sense at a time when growth is key to economic recovery.“Our inspectors’ experience is that it is wrong to assume a material breach equates with ‘wilful default’, when it can be the result of lack of knowledge and/or resources. It is counter-productive to create a culture where organisations come to resent inspections, when the priority is to work with them to prevent accidents and keep workers safe.”The consultation on charging arose from the government’s strategy document, Good Health and Safety, Good for Everyone, which also outlined plans to reduce proactive HSE inspections by a third. “Be it on inspections or charging, government strategy is unfortunately focused on cutting costs rather than saving lives and avoiding accidents,” Clancy said.See Prospect’s response at http://library.prospect.org.uk/id/2011/04021