Not enough health and safety?

Hold on to your hard hats: the Health and Safety Executive may reduce unannounced workplace inspections by a third.

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 09 Mar 2011
Faced with the threat of a 35% cut to its Government grant (with safety scissors, presumably), the chief exec of the HSE Geoffrey Podger has outlined plans to withdraw inspections from entire sectors of industry - including some where there’s still ‘significant risk’. It has subsequently leaked. So after years of people complaining of too much health and safety, Podger may find he’s suddenly fielding complaints from people saying there’s not enough.

That’s certainly some argument for that. HSE inspectors may not be everyone’s cup of scalding hot tea, but there is a downside to cutting their unannounced visits. Their thousands of knock-on-the-door visits are credited with helping to prevent accidents and workplace deaths, which currently stand at an all-time low.

But like everything else, it costs money to be safe. And in the face of the forthcoming cuts, Podger is recommending turning to web-based and other initiatives.

Podger suggests inspections would need to carry on in some areas, like the nuclear, offshore and chemical industries. But he alluded to a couple of categories where proactive inspections would totally disappear - despite risks remaining in these areas - partly because it’d be more cost-effective, and partly because inspections aren’t ‘necessary or useful’. The more cynical among you may point out that this has never stopped the HSE before.

Yet replacing inspections with online initiatives may not be the safest course. According to Dr Courtney Davis of Sussex University, who reviewed the worldwide evidence for the value of proactive inspections, ‘inspection plus enforcement are associated with a decline in injury rates of 22% for the following three years.’ Meanwhile the evidence for the proposed softer alternatives is ‘non-existent’. So it's a risk of a different sort.

Now the British Safety Council is calling for a public discussion about how best to deal with the reality of fewer health and safety resources. They'd welcome your input - just don’t shout too loudly, or you may strain your vocal cords. Or put your back out. Or perforate an ear drum...

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