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Does a review signal a change of direction for the HSE?

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A new review of the HSE has called on the body to up their game on inspection and prosecution and challenges many of the changes that were forced on the organisation by the coalition and Conservative governments

A new review of the HSE has called on the body to up their game on inspection and prosecution and challenges many of the changes that were forced on the organisation by the coalition and Conservative Governments.

The review, carried out by a member of the board of The Pensions Trust, is generally positive about the HSE. However, it makes quite a number of recommendations that will reassure a lot of those who have been concerned over the direction that the HSE was going after 2010.

In 2010 the government instructed the HSE to stop all proactive inspections in the vast majority of sectors. They could only inspect after a complaint or a report of an incident. Local Councils were later ordered to do the same. As a result, inspections fell. This decline was highest in the local authority inspected sector where the number of pro-active inspections fell by 97 per cent between 2010 and 2016, and the overall number of inspections and other interventions fell by 65 per cent. Because of the fall in inspections, both prosecutions and enforcement activity fell as well.

The TUC argued strongly that the move away from proactive inspections was a political move and not one based on evidence. We also pointed out that the HSE approach to inspections was far more likely to find breaches of safety, where serious injuries have to be reported, rather than health. Proactive inspections continue to expose a material breach rate of 45-50 per cent, demonstrating the value of this form of intervention in removing risks from the workplace.

The review calls on the HSE to address these points. It asks for inspection and enforcement to be based on evidence of the best outcomes and there is a recommendation that the HSE maximise the impact of interventions on workplace health which means focusing ever-strained HSE resources on what works to remove risks. Equally welcome is the proposal that the HSE should consider taking more challenging prosecutions. This would include on areas that the HSE has shied away from in the past decade, such as stress.

The report also looks at the composition of the HSE board. The requirement for three worker seats and three employer seats has been under threat for several years. Firstly the government increased the number of additional seats from three to six, which diluted the worker/employer voice, and then started refusing to appoint trade unionist nominations to the board. At one point they even appointed an employer to represent workers and refusing to appoint a couple of good trade unionists supported by the TUC.

The review is very clear on this issue, as was an earlier review four years previously. It states “The tripartite structure of the HSE board should be retained”. It also asks the government to explore “collaborative solutions” to avoid the situation we had whereby a board seat was vacant for coming on to 2 years because the government simply could not bring itself to appoint the TUC supported candidate.

Another area that the review looked at was the growing pressure on the HSE to take on more commercial work. This has been a major demand from the Government and, so far, has been widely seen as being a failure, with the HSE being forced to chase private work which has had little benefit to either the organisation, or health and safety in general. The report makes two recommendations that it is worth quoting in full: “ HSE should clarify the purpose of its commercial strategy and ambitions, to ensure that projects undertaken align with, and complement, HSE’s core business ” and “ HSE should ensure that the success of commercial activity is measured by its contribution, rather than by income”. These two comments are a very strong reminder to the Government that the HSE is there for a reason, which is to improve the health and safety of workers and the public - not a commercial organisation chasing profits.

I am sure that the HSE workforce will also welcome the proposals on staff engagement, communications and diversity which are issues that the staff unions have been campaigning on for several years.

A new review of the HSE has called on the body to up their game on inspection and prosecution and challenges many of the changes that were forced on the organisation by the coalition and Conservative Governments.

The review, carried out by a member of the board of The Pensions Trust, is generally positive about the HSE. However, it makes quite a number of recommendations that will reassure a lot of those who have been concerned over the direction that the HSE was going after 2010.

In 2010 the government instructed the HSE to stop all proactive inspections in the vast majority of sectors. They could only inspect after a complaint or a report of an incident. Local Councils were later ordered to do the same. As a result, inspections fell. This decline was highest in the local authority inspected sector where the number of pro-active inspections fell by 97 per cent between 2010 and 2016, and the overall number of inspections and other interventions fell by 65 per cent. Because of the fall in inspections, both prosecutions and enforcement activity fell as well.

The TUC argued strongly that the move away from proactive inspections was a political move and not one based on evidence. We also pointed out that the HSE approach to inspections was far more likely to find breaches of safety, where serious injuries have to be reported, rather than health. Proactive inspections continue to expose a material breach rate of 45-50 per cent, demonstrating the value of this form of intervention in removing risks from the workplace.

The review calls on the HSE to address these points. It asks for inspection and enforcement to be based on evidence of the best outcomes and there is a recommendation that the HSE maximise the impact of interventions on workplace health which means focusing ever-strained HSE resources on what works to remove risks. Equally welcome is the proposal that the HSE should consider taking more challenging prosecutions. This would include on areas that the HSE has shied away from in the past decade, such as stress.

The report also looks at the composition of the HSE board. The requirement for three worker seats and three employer seats has been under threat for several years. Firstly the government increased the number of additional seats from three to six, which diluted the worker/employer voice, and then started refusing to appoint trade unionist nominations to the board. At one point they even appointed an employer to represent workers and refusing to appoint a couple of good trade unionists supported by the TUC.

The review is very clear on this issue, as was an earlier review four years previously. It states “The tripartite structure of the HSE board should be retained”. It also asks the government to explore “collaborative solutions” to avoid the situation we had whereby a board seat was vacant for coming on to 2 years because the government simply could not bring itself to appoint the TUC supported candidate.

Another area that the review looked at was the growing pressure on the HSE to take on more commercial work. This has been a major demand from the Government and, so far, has been widely seen as being a failure, with the HSE being forced to chase private work which has had little benefit to either the organisation, or health and safety in general. The report makes two recommendations that it is worth quoting in full: “ HSE should clarify the purpose of its commercial strategy and ambitions, to ensure that projects undertaken align with, and complement, HSE’s core business ” and “ HSE should ensure that the success of commercial activity is measured by its contribution, rather than by income”. These two comments are a very strong reminder to the Government that the HSE is there for a reason, which is to improve the health and safety of workers and the public - not a commercial organisation chasing profits.

I am sure that the HSE workforce will also welcome the proposals on staff engagement, communications and diversity which are issues that the staff unions have been campaigning on for several years.