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An inspector calls - once every 14.5 years

21 April, 2008

The average UK business is likely to receive a visit from a health and safety inspector only once every 14½ years. This figure has been revealed by a committee of MPs who have been looking at the role of the newly merged HSE and HSC  in regulating health and safety in the workplace.

In a new report*, the MPs call for:
• higher fines for health and safety offences;
• a proportion of the income from increased penalties to be returned to the HSE to enhance its investigative capabilities;
• a system for accrediting health and safety consultants and advisers;
• an increase in the number of front-line inspectors deployed by the HSE;
• the Government to ensure that its transposition of EU legislation is consistent with the HSE’s efforts to reduce the administrative burden on businesses;
• a "robust" system of prosecution and conviction to enforce health and safety law; and
• the Government and the insurance industry to look at developing a system similar to that used in Germany where employers’ liability insurance premiums are linked to their standards of health and safety.

The House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee, which produced the report, says it is satisfied that the merger of the HSE and the HSC is "sensible", but it is concerned that the move of the combined organisation to Bootle on Merseyside "could lead to a huge loss of experienced HSE staff, who are unwilling to relocate".

The MPs found that some employers are over-cautious in their interpretation of health and safety legislation, increasing their compliance burden. They add that "over-zealous" consultants contribute to this problem.

The committee is "disappointed" that the HSE is failing to reach its own target of a 60:40 ratio between proactive and reactive work, and that it is unlikely to meet this target in future because new developments are skewing its focus towards reactive work.

The MPs welcome the increased number of health and safety prosecutions between 2005/06 and 2006/07, but point out that there has been an almost continuous downward trend in prosecutions since 1999/2000. The number of convictions also fell from 1,273 in 2002/03 to 848 in 2006/07.

The MPs believe that an under-resourced heath and safety inspectorate is having a negative impact on accident rates and employer compliance. But, because of a "total lack of clarity" in the financial information provided to the Committee, it was not clear to them whether additional inspections could be financed from within the HSE’s budget or whether it would need further resources.

The Committee concludes that current levels of fines for heath and safety offences are "too low" and do not provide a sufficient deterrent to ensure that duty-holders comply with their obligations. "We would like to see more innovative penalties to encourage compliance," the MPs say.

*The role of the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive in regulating workplace health and safety. Third report of Session 2007-08. Volume 1 (HC 246-1). The report can be viewed on the Internet or downloaded as a PDF file.

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