There are several issues in the United Kingdom at the moment that could affect workplace safety, not including Lord Young’s OHS review.
Great Britain is to undergo enormous funding cuts to most of the civil service. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) is to have its budget cut by 35% according to the Trades Union Congress (TUC).
Another issue is that a TUC survey has found:
“Almost half (49%) of safety representatives said that as far as they know, a health and safety inspector has never inspected their workplace…”
The TUC says that the same survey indicates that the threat of inspection is a major motivator to OHS improvements. In a media release
on 1 November 2010 TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:
“Knowing that an inspector is likely to visit is one of the key drivers to changing employers’ behaviour and making the workplace safer and healthier. It is a scandal that nearly half of workplaces in the UK have never been visited by a health and safety inspector.”
And those inspectors are most likely to come from the HSE . Data from the HSE shows that the number of enforcement notices
has hovered around 10,000 each year for the last decade. The number of prosecutions over that time have steadily declined.
What is really required is the number of the inspections undertaken by the HSE but this information is not included in the latest annual statistics
If safety improvements are made in businesses due to the threat of an OHS inspection by a regulators, how does the HSE plan to keep the pressure on when it will lose over a third of its budget?
If it chooses to maintain its inspection activity, it must need to cut its OHS support services its website content, its publications, its OHS awareness campaigns. But how can it do this when Lord Young
(recently appointed as the UK Prime Minister’s Enterprise Adviser
) has increased the HSE’s workload:
“My report highlights the role that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authorities have in promoting a common sense approach to health and safety. Their role is pivotal in ensuring that businesses, schools and voluntary organisations can operate in a way where health and safety is applied in a proportionate manner.”
Perhaps, part of the answer comes from the next paragraph in Lord Young’s report where, essentially, he wants to dumb-down safety to checklists, at least in the short-term (likely to be the long-term if the EU will not compromise):
“I propose that the HSE develop downloadable checklists to reassure organisations operating in low hazard environments that they are meeting their legal obligations and managing risk so far as is reasonably practicable.”
[The checklists for stress, bullying and mental health promise to be fascinating.]
So much for “their role is pivotal”.
An incoming conservative government in Australia in 1996 decimated the budget of the National OHS Commission
(pages 5&6 of link) effectively cancelling a program of national uniformity for OHS laws in eleven priority areas. This impeded the growth of effective OHS laws for almost a decade until the same Prime Minister, John Howard, started the, similar, OHS harmonisation process but this time for the purposes of reducing business costs.
The UK faces a similar result unless the senior figures in the Health & Safety Executive are able to produce creative solutions which maintain (or increase) enforcement at some time as provided strong support for injury prevention. If the HSE can survive the 35% cut in funding and still functional to its original charter, it may provide a model of efficiency to OHS regulators around the world facing similar challenges.
reservoir, victoria, australia