Dangerous drop in workplace health and safety inspections
By Hajera Blag
In damning new findings from the TUC published yesterday (September 19), nearly half of health and safety reps say their workplace has not once been inspected by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
And among the most hazardous industries – construction, where there were 65,000 work-related injuries and 67,000 work related illnesses last year alone – this figure tumbles to a dangerously low 17 per cent.
Even in the sector with the greatest number of reps reporting inspections – manufacturing – only a slim majority of 57 per cent say that their workplace has ever been inspected.
Overall, just one in four health and safety reps – 24 per cent – has reported an HSE inspection in the last 12 months.
These findings TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady called “deeply worrying”.
“I am appalled that 80 per cent of reps in construction say their workplaces haven’t been inspected,” she added. “Construction workplaces can be some of the most dangerous places to work.”
Both the TUC and Unite along with other unions have laid the blame for the dangerous drop in HSE inspections squarely on the shoulders of government cuts.
“Huge cuts to the HSE and to local authorities continue to undermine vital safety protections at work,” O’Grady noted. “That means more workers at risk of accidents in unsafe workplaces every day. It’s time to fund the HSE properly and make sure bosses know that they can’t get away with chancing workers’ lives in dangerous workplaces.”
Unite national health and safety advisor Susan Murray agreed.
“This shameful situation is a result of years of underfunding for health and safety enforcers such as the HSE and local authority environmental health officers, a situation made demonstrably worse by the coalition and successive Tory governments,” she argued.
Indeed, after undergoing years of steep funding cuts since 2010, the HSE noted in a business plan in April that they will be hit by another massive 12.5 per cent slash in funding from central government in 2016/17, which takes the total reduction in funding in the last six years to an astonishing 46 per cent.
“Research has shown that enforcement activity is a very effective driver for compliance,” Murray highlighted.
“Instead we are seeing tens of thousands of people dying prematurely every year as a result of past exposures to hazardous substances at work, such as asbestos and silica, because their employers did not obey health and safety law. This cannot continue.”
Murray also condemned a recent government decision to hand a seat on the HSE’s executive board which is specifically designated under the Health and Safety at Work Act for a worker representative to an employer.
Hazards Magazine reported earlier this month that the appointed person to supposedly represent workers’ interests was one Susan Johnson.
In a register of interests on the HSE website, Hazards found, she has at least four other current paid directorships. Johnson recently retired as chief executive of the Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service. Before she served as chief executive of Northern Business Forum, and an ex-director of the food company Greggs.
There is nothing in her background that remotely suggests she could be a workers’ representative, the TUC noted.
“This,” Murray said, “is a disgraceful attack on trade unions.”