Not enough ‘Elf ‘n Safety’? The Daily Mirror thinks so


We are accustomed to headlines about ‘health and safety gone mad’. But in an article in the Daily Mirror, the argument is turned around because (prompted by a release from professional workers, scientists and engineers’ union Prospect) the allegation is that what are described as ‘savage health inspectors cuts’ will imperil workers.

At the heart of this issue is that HSE’s headcount has been reduced to include just three occupational physicians and 18 occupational health inspectors. In the 1990s the in-house figures were 60 of each, Prospect claims.

Because 12,000 to 18,000 deaths a year are claimed to result from workplace hazards, and some two million workers in Britain suffer occupational ill health of some kind, this is flagged up as being a worrying development in terms of an apparent reduction in official health and safety capability.

Radiation worries

It is claimed that the HSE corporate medical unit cannot now provide basic cover on work health advice and prevention, and has withdrawn from routine radiation inspections in a bid to cut costs; and that HSE has only five specialist radiation inspectors left, falling to four this year. Yet 120,000 employees are exposed to ionising radiation, which results in 280 deaths annually.

Added to the allegations is that Government wants to “free employers of their responsibility to record workers’ absences due to industrial diseases.” Prospect’s head of research, Sue Ferns, comments:

That would remove the bulk of the intelligence guiding the work of hygiene and occupational inspectors and deprive health and safety representatives of information essential to monitor workplace health.”

“Yet the Prime Minister, untroubled by the facts, launched a public attack pledging to tackle, in his words, a ‘health and safety monster’,” said Ms Ferns in a double-pronged attack on the regulators and on the Coalition.

Outsourced specialists

The HSE responded, and were quoted, saying that they nowadays use external specialists in these areas. Thus the number of physicians and inspectors quoted does not reflect the total specialists that are used by them. They have also changed the way in which they carry out their duties relating to occupational health issues.

Not reported in the Mirror’s article, but reproduced here in the cause of balance, is this further explanation from HSE’s Chief Executive, Geoffrey Podger:

HSE’s doctors and occupational health inspectors now work with many other specialists – including those from HSE’s Health and Safety Laboratory – in contributing to reducing risks to health in the workplace. These include industrial hygienists, noise and vibration specialists, ergonomists, psychologists, health scientists and other experts from a variety of backgrounds.

Controversy rages

Clearly in this most dynamic period for health and safety legislation, the controversies will continue and will keep safety consultants and regulators busy. And there is no doubt that construction safety will be a major topic and will often take centre stage: the Mirror article predictably showed a stock shot of roofers at work.

Stand by for a raft of stories as Fees For Intervention (FFI) start to be applied and the new ‘lighter touch’ regulations are brought in.