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January 9, 2012

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Prospect ponders ‘regulatory revolution’ at parliamentary forum

The union that represents HSE inspectors held a health and safety reception in Parliament last month to debate the findings of the Löfstedt review, plans to extend charging for inspections, and the Government’s wider deregulation agenda.

Entitled ‘Health and safety: a regulatory revolution?’, the event opened with Jim Sheridan, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health, condemning the tabloid media’s attempts to portray health and safety as red tape and welcoming Prospect’s efforts to educate people about such myths.

Added Mr Sheridan: “It’s a fundamental right for people to leave their homes in the morning with the clear understanding that they have the right to return home safe and uninjured.”

Prospect welcomed Professor Löfstedt’s finding that he had neither seen nor heard evidence to suggest “radically altering, or stripping back current health and safety regulation.”

The union’s deputy general secretary Mike Clancy said the HSE had been subject to endless reviews, all confirming that health and safety legislation is fit for purpose and that the regulator is carrying out its role effectively in spite of declining resources. There could be no greater validation of the HSE’s work, he insisted, yet the 35 per cent cut to its budget provided an enormous challenge both to its management and employees, as well as the businesses and individuals the watchdog serves.

Citing recent statistics – including 171 workers killed last year; 1.2 million work-related health problems; and 26.4 million working days lost – Clancy said the HSE should be allowed to get on with its job.

Prospect HSE branch chair Neil Hope-Collins, also an inspector, warned that the Government’s approach to the HSE would “have consequences, whether intended or not, that will be damaging and detrimental”.

He explained: “Our concerns are that current government policies will damage HSE’s profile, capacity and engagement with business and stakeholders.”

Cutting proactive inspections by a third would be a “huge hit” for industry, he said, with vital intelligence and local knowledge lost. Although he pointed out that members could understand the merits of costs-recovery, they fear its success could rely on targeting inspections based on reported incidents. He added: “We fear the new policy will target those who want to be compliant, and the rogues will still fly under the wire.”

Shadow Employment minister Stephen Timms MP welcomed many of Professor Löfstedt’s conclusions. However, he expressed concern at the idea that self-employed people should be exempt from certain health and safety responsibilities.

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