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Going back a little in history, the 2009 Calman Commission on Scottish devolution heard a number of submissions calling for a greater Scottish role in the implementation of health and safety law. These ranged from calls for full devolution to greater flexibility in the direction of enforcement and prioritisation. Other submissions made a strong case for retaining the current ‘status quo’. The Commission noted all these views and recommended that HSE in Scotland develop a closer relationship with the Scottish Parliament. This allowed HSE to continue operating and develop its successful Partnership on Health and Safety in Scotland (PHASS). This partnership advises on the delivery of HSE’s strategy in the context of Scotland and includes HSE, the Scottish Government, CBI, FSB and Local Authorities amongst others. Many stakeholders consider this to be the most appropriate model for the effective management of overlapping ‘reserved’ and ‘devolved’ interests in the H&S field.
One of the proposals on the table during the September 2014 Scottish referendum debate included the establishment of a Scottish Health & Safety Executive to set enforcement priorities, goals and objectives in Scotland. It was suggested that this body would be required to operate within the reserved health & safety framework and existing H&S regulations and be closely linked with the existing Health and Safety Executive, but it would be for the body – reporting to the Scottish Government, scrutinised by the Scottish Parliament and accessing funding provided by that Parliament – to set and achieve the health & safety objectives of most relevance and importance to Scotland.
Fast forward to the outcome of the Scottish Referendum and the Smith Commission report published on 27 November 2014. This report has suggested that the Scottish and UK Governments work together to review the functions and operations of the Health and Safety Executive in Scotland and consider how the future requirements to best serve the people of Scotland could be delivered operationally whilst remaining within a reserved health and safety legislative framework.
It is unclear how this will play out as the Smith Commission report has only just been published. One key question to ask however is whether there are really any significant problems associated with the existing system as currently managed by the HSE. After all, the current model for the Health and Safety Executive operating uniformly throughout Great Britain is one of the most respected in the world and has an exemplary health and safety record in terms of its workplace fatalities and injuries.
The proposal for a Scottish Health and Safety Executive seems to have originated from an analysis of fatal and injury data which suggested that a Scottish worker is statistically more likely to be injured or killed than any employee in any other part of the UK, because Scotland has a higher proportion of workers employed in the construction industry. However in a recent briefing paper to PHASS it concluded that the fatal and major injury rate for Scotland and England are on a par when London and the SE are excluded from the statistics. England’s lower rate of serious injuries and marginally lower rate of fatalities is a statistical consequence of the higher level of lower risk employment in London and the South East.
Do employers support the idea of a separate Scottish Health and Safety Executive? In reality companies who operate both North and South of the border have no appetite for a separate Scottish Health and Safety Executive. They believe it will result in them having to spend unnecessary additional resource to meet potentially different requirements in Scotland and the rest of Great Britain. They are also concerned that it would weaken what is a success story for Britain by splitting off some of the funding, leading to less resources to address GB wide issues.
EEF does not support the creation of a separate Health and Safety Executive for Scotland. In our view a convincing case had not been made for such a separation. We judge that a separate Scottish HSE with its own operational powers to be a retrograde step in that it may create inconsistency of approach within GB as well as create unnecessary duplication of function and waste resources. We do however support the need for current arrangements to be reviewed to clarify or confirm whether HSE is in fact already effective (as we suspect) in serving the needs of the people of Scotland.