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What happens when the Health and Safety Executive don't bother to inspect

A new study has been published by Professor Rory O’Neill, Professor of Occupational Health Policy Research at Stirling University into workplace inspections by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The report condemns the HSE’s failure to conduct unannounced inspection upon entire sectors of the workplace and the lack of investigation into reported major injuries in all but 5 per cent of those reported under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR).

In 2011 the Coalition Government implemented its ‘Good health and safety, good for everyone strategy.’ This laid out an inspection directive which essentially put in place a no go policy which allows various sectors to be excluded from unannounced workplace inspections as they are deemed ‘safe’. Shocking statistics found by Professor O’Neill in his study, where he undertook a series of freedom of information requests and analysed over 20 HSE reports, have shown that at least 37 sectors are exempt. These include industries acknowledged by the HSE as ‘higher risk’ such as plastics, quarries, agriculture and the UK’s biggest employer, the health sector. Since this strategy was introduced by the Government and implemented by the HSE more than half of all deaths in HSE enforced workplaces have taken place in excluded sectors. The position is worse in Scotland than England with 60 per cent of fatalities being in uninspected sectors.

The HSE is now a body which is underfunded and under resourced. Following pressure and cuts from the Government it has become a body which does not have the man power to conduct the necessary investigations to ensure that dangerous workplaces in high risk sectors are subject to a proper inspection and enforcement regime. Thompsons Partner Rory McPherson said: “It is unfortunate that in the very few cases the HSE does choose to investigate it does not have the teeth to pursue proper prosecution of grossly negligent employers who have operated with complete disregard for the safety and the lives of their employees.”

Professor O’Neill states ‘You could be scalped, lose a limb or be blinded at work and the HSE would not care to look.’ He goes on to say ‘The current Government strategy is making life easier for irresponsible businesses but risks making it just a bit shorter for the rest of us.’ 

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