Government budgetary cuts could force the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to slash unannounced workplace safety inspector visits by up to one-third, raising concerns among unions that corners will also be cut as a result.
A letter by HSE chief executive Geoffrey Podger was leaked to unions in March that suggested intense current discussions were going ahead within the HSE and Government, with HSE bosses considering axing many unplanned visits to many companies over a large variety of industries.
Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary, said that such cuts could endanger British workers.
“If government cuts to HSE funding do result in fewer safety inspections, unscrupulous employers will simply assume they can get away with taking risks with the safety and wellbeing of their staff, without fear of ever being prosecuted,” he warned.
Unannounced inspections have long formed a key aspect of HSE enforcement and “the possibility of an unexpected visit from either an HSE or a local authority safety inspector helps keep employers on their toes”, he added.
Alan Ritchie, general secretary of construction union UCATT, added his voice to the fears, arguing that many company owners ignored health and safety procedures, with the only thing making them enforce procedures at all being the constant threat that HSE inspectors could arrive at any given time.
The leak has also prompted the British Safety Council to call for a public debate on the future of health and safety regulation. But the HSE stressed to Occupational Health magazine that no final decisions on funding had yet been made.
“We’re not completely clear on how this will affect us in detail, as our financial settlement is still being finalised,” said a spokesperson.
“What is certain is that the Government announced that it will expect savings of at least 35% in its direct funding of the HSE over the next four financial years.
“Our parent department in Government, the Department for Work and Pensions, has said that in seeking to achieve efficiencies ‘we will share more of the costs with those businesses who create the risks, while reducing burdens on low-risk businesses’.
“The HSE board will be advising further on how this might be achieved – the HSE will not be offering further comment while this work is ongoing,” he added.