When we started the House of Commons select committee Inquiry into the
Health and Safety Executive, the first impression of the organisation was one
Both fatal accidents and accidents in general are falling in the UK. And
whether this is due to the changing nature of UK industry – with the decline in
heavy industry – or the HSE doing a good job, one thing is clear – we are doing
much better than the rest of Europe.
But the committee report does highlight the difficulties of addressing
occupational health problems within the mainstream health service. It says that
incidence is likely to increase and it is concerned that the HSE’s strategy and
associated targets may not be ambitious enough. It recommends that the
Government and the HSE develop the idea of an occupational health advisory
network based around primary care groups.
The committee was also concerned, however, about the number of small firms
being fined or prosecuted by health and safety inspectors. And this threw up
two other issues.
The first was whether the HSE had adapted to changes in the workplace? In
the past, heavy industry needed regulating to avoid accidents. Today, with far
more people working in offices, with monitors and keyboards, such accidents are
In these conditions health is more often damaged slowly. The problems are
more likely to be stress, repetitive strain injury, damaged eyesight, allergies
to photocopiers, and so on.
The second concern is how far the tripartite system of the TUC, CBI and
Governance, are the relevant bodies to dominate the Health and Safety
The argument is that many small firms are not in the CBI, and a large number
of staff are not in unions. Representing small firms and non-union employees is
virtually impossible, however, so the committee concluded it was up to those
who are unrepresented to join the CBI, or a union.
Getting to grips with such issues is the real challenge for the HSE over the
next few years. I won’t say that dealing with yesterday’s problems is easy, but
it is much easier than dealing with tomorrow’s problems.