A recent report produced by Professor Andrew Watterson from the University of Stirling on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) linked an increase in workplace injuries to the recent, dramatic fall in HSE funding. It was reported that a number of major and fatal injuries at work in the UK have increased by more than 2,700 in the past five years.
This figure will doubtless mark a rise in claims which in turn will have the tabloid journalists scrambling to beat their ‘compensation culture’ drums with the sticks provided by the insurance companies who are happy to perpetuate such a myth. Suffice to say, the root of the problem here is not personal injury lawyers, health and safety cuts or the victims of such accidents. The primary liability rests with employers who are the main villains of the piece here. All this at a time when the Government has not only reduced HSE funding but undertaken to cut out the red tape faced by some employers.
The HSE’s budget has been cut by around £30 million in the past couple of years and the staff numbers have dropped by around 22 per cent over the same period. There are now only 18 occupational health inspectors left at the HSE whereas in the 1990’s there were 60. This is even more worrying when considering that there are between 12,000 and 18,000 deaths a year attributable to exposure to occupational hazards official figures show that more than two million British workers suffer from some form of occupational ill health.
The Con-Dem coalition also aims to free employers of any responsibility to record workers absences due to industrial diseases. That would have the result of removing any intelligence that would ultimately guide the work of hygiene and occupational inspectors and also deprive health and safety representatives of information essential to monitor health in the workplace.
However, in an effort to address this decline in funding, since the beginning of October, businesses that are accused of breaching health and safety regulations will be charged £124 per hour for investigations. If the HSE consider that there is a potential breach serious enough to warrant sending a letter to the company then they will be able to recover the cost of the investigation. It is estimated that 92 per cent of all enforcement notices are directed towards manufacture and construction companies who will be affected by this move, which is welcome insofar as it will allow the HSE to generate revenue.
In my opinion, Scotland needs it’s own Health and Safety Executive, free from the influence at Westminster whose will appears to be not only to reduce the powers but also the funding of the body. In Scotland, we have a higher sickness rate than the rest of the UK and only 1 per cent of the 2,500 fatal and major injuries end in an HSE led prosecution and conviction. A localised HSE in Scotland would produce more accountability to both business and employees and also the health authorities.
The HSE has perennially been referred to as a toothless force which is about as the oxymoronic as Scrappy Doo the bluster pup nephew of Scooby Doo whose reluctance when it came to a good scrap rendered him Scrappy Don’t! However, just like little Scrappy the HSE continues to have much less to bite with these days and a lot less to bark about.