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March 6, 2012

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Fees for intervention ‘a must’ if enforcement is to continue

Health and safety is not a ‘job done’ and it needs continual reinvestment even to stay at today’s level.

So said HSE chief executive Geoffrey Podger – the self-proclaimed “man who has to do all the work” in the wake of the Lofstedt Review and against a background of significant cuts to his operating budget.

Speaking after the professor at the opening session of the IOSH 2012 conference this morning (6 March) Mr Podger said the Executive is fully engaged in a large programme of work to encourage proper standards of health and safety. He explained: “We are currently halfway through our programme on construction sites, for example. Last year, on just under 20 per cent of sites visited, work had to be stopped immediately because of the conditions found. This year, the impression so far is, unfortunately, that there has been no significant improvement.”

Addressing this, he continued, is particularly difficult because of the reduction in the regulator’s resources, so “the challenge is to make the best choices for the future and not be hidebound by the practices of the past”.

This led him on to one of the regulator’s more controversial recent decisions – ‘fees for intervention’ (FFI), which he described as “a good way to provide us with more resources”. However, he was unable to shed any more light on how the system will work, as the Executive is still engaged in technical discussions on the issue.

Hugh Robertson, of the TUC, said that while the unions were, in principle, against charging for intervention – “the State should be paying for enforcement” – he acknowledged the need to live in the real world and recognise the current budgetary constraints on the regulator.

He continued: “If it is a choice between charging and less enforcement, the unions will support the former, but we have got to ensure that FFI is also used to change behaviour. Only those that are at material fault have anything to fear.”

Prof Ragnar Lofstedt agreed with Hugh but also expressed concern – as have many others – about the impact the new regime would have on the relationship between the regulator and those it regulates.

Geoffrey Podger was quick to emphasise that HSE inspectors, by and large, enjoy very good relationships with the businesses with which they interact. “They have to,” he explained, “even after taking them to court, because they both need to ensure there isn’t a recurrence. I have great confidence in our inspectors to continue this good relationship.”


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