FFI: Fit for Purpose?
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) brought in the highly controversial Fees for Intervention in October 2012. There has been a lot of speculation as to whether this was a money-making scheme designed to counter the reduced funding available to HSE from Government, but no-one has been able in the first 18 months of operation to prove that there was any pressure on inspectors to act as a revenue generating machine. Now a report commissioned by HSE, but produced by a panel of apparently independent assessors, has given a clean bill of health to the way in which it has initially been operated.
The highlights of the reports findings are –
- No evidence was found that FFI has been used as a money-making scheme
- There has been a consistent and effective application of the scheme
- It is “not popular with some inspectors and dutyholders”
- But the conclusion is that there is no real alternative
New revenue stream
HSE does admit in its own press release that FFI is a “scheme designed to shift the cost of regulating workplace health and safety from the public purse to businesses who break the law.” Thus clearly it is a way of raising much-needed funds that are no longer available from the Treasury purse. It should perhaps also be pointed out that at the point of intervention, there is no requirement to prove that the business has broken any law – it is a matter of judgement on the part of an inspector. And whereas there is an appeal process, it is to the HSE itself with virtually no independent assessment.
Chair of the review panel was the Professor of Public Policy, Liverpool University, Alan Harding. Also represented were delegates from the GMB Trade Union, Federation of Small Businesses and the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions). Seemingly there was no specific representation of the important construction safety community, which has been vocal in its debate about FFI and which is most often in the firing line when actual interventions occur. 42% of inspections in the period were on construction sites, yet the sector generated far less FFI revenue than manufacturing did (from only 31% of the total visits). This suggests that some HSE refocusing might be in order.
No evidence was uncovered to support the idea that decisions had been influenced by the arrival of FFI. It was concluded that the scheme is being applied professionally and fairly by inspectors.
It is suggested that “generally inspectors and dutyholders continue to work together in improving health and safety management.”
The comment from HSE Chair Judith Hackitt was:
Both HSE and the Government believe it is right that those who fail to meet their legal health and safety obligations should pay our costs, and acceptance of this principle is growing. This review gives us confidence that FFI is working effectively and should be retained. We will continue to monitor the performance of Fee for Intervention to ensure it remains consistent and fair.
Reading the full report, it is interesting to note that it relates to the 18-month period ending June 2014 and it was based solely upon HSE-supplied data. The panel comments: “The tight timescale within which this report needed to be produced has meant that no additional research on the operation and impact of FFI could be commissioned or drawn upon.”
Although the findings were that HSE had not used it as a ‘cash cow’, there was a clear warning that it was ‘imperative’ that the body continues to guard against this danger in the future.
The number of queried FFI charges coming from the Construction sector in the survey period was 278, just over a third of all disputes and the biggest single sector. Yet only 5 of these escalated to a formal Level 1 dispute and 1 to a Level 2 dispute (there were only 3 of these from all sectors). 34% of all queries were upheld, which suggests that more people should be prepared to challenge interventions.
The tiny level of disputes made it hard for the panel to reach conclusions, but they did warn that the disputes process must be kept under review to ensure that it is truly independent. It will be very interesting to see what a longer-period review, with independent industry-wide data, will conclude.